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Headaches in Kids: What Parents Should Know

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Although headaches are common, they can be painful and frustrating — especially if you’re a parent trying to soothe your child’s symptoms. Most often, headaches in kids are minor and temporary, but it’s important to be informed and know when to seek medical care.

We’re here to walk you through what to know and when to see a specialist at AdventHealth for Children so you can help your little one feel better.

Common Types of Headaches in Kids

Headaches in kids (and adults) can be divided into two categories:

  • Primary headaches, which are not caused by an underlying medical condition and include migraines, tension headaches and cluster headaches
  • Secondary headaches, which are a symptom of an underlying health condition or disease in the brain, like a tumor or infection, and are the least common type of headache in kids

Symptoms of Headaches in Kids

In kids, tension headaches may be the most common, causing symptoms like dull and mild to moderate pain and pain on several sides of the head.

Migraines in kids — which may run in families — are usually characterized by a throbbing or pounding pain, sensitivity to light or sound, nausea and/or vomiting and, in some cases, an aura (strange smells or a change in vision).

Both tension headaches and migraines are more common in kids than cluster headaches, which may involve severe pain (sometimes behind one eye), forehead swelling and congestion.

What Causes Headaches in Kids?

Stress, anxiety, emotional conflict, insomnia and dehydration are some of the most common causes of primary headaches in children. Adolescent and teen girls may also frequently experience hormonal headaches or migraines before, during or after their periods, because of the changes in estrogen and progesterone levels. Additionally, exposure to new foods or substances may also trigger primary headaches in kids.

Certain medical conditions can also cause headaches. These are known as secondary headaches, and they’re a symptom of a condition that needs to be diagnosed and treated.

How Headaches Differ in Kids and Adults

The symptoms of headaches and migraines in children are mostly the same as in adults, with a few differences. For example, migraine pain in children may last less than four hours, whereas in adults, migraines last at least four hours.

Kids also may not be able to articulate or describe their pain, especially if they’re very young. They might complain of pain all over, or struggle with more gastrointestinal symptoms like an upset stomach. Kids might also behave in different ways than adults when experiencing headaches, too. They might become quiet and withdrawn, for instance.

Treating Your Child’s Headache at Home

Typically, you can treat a minor headache at home with rest in a quiet, dark space, fluids and mild medications. Headaches in kids can usually be treated with over-the-counter pain-relieving medications like acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen (Advil). Be sure to read the labels thoroughly for the proper dosage for your child’s age. Most importantly, while pain-relieving medications may be helpful on an occasional basis, avoid giving them to your child more than two or three times a week.

To prevent future headaches, changes like avoiding trigger foods, getting sufficient sleep, exercising and relaxation techniques can all help.

When to See a Specialist for Your Child’s Headaches

  • Signs that may indicate your child should see a specialist include:
  • Over-the-counter medications aren’t helping
  • The headaches become more frequent, severe or the pain changes
  • The headaches began after a head trauma incident
  • The headaches disrupt your child’s daily life considerably
  • The headaches wake your child up from sleep
  • Your child does not seem back to normal after the headache is gone
  • Your child experiences more than two headaches per week
  • Your child has any acute change in personality or behavior
  • Your child starts vomiting frequently or experiences visual changes like blurred vision

If any of these symptoms sound familiar, we’re here to help you and your family get to the root of the issue. An evaluation from a headache specialist at AdventHealth for Children can give you answers.

Find Answers and Treatment at Our Headache Center for Kids

A first-of-its-kind program in Central Florida, the AdventHealth for Children Headache Center is dedicated to helping children of all ages find relief from frequent headaches. Our first step in caring for them is working to identify the cause of the headaches and treating any underlying disease.

Our expert team of board-certified pediatric neurologists, neurosurgeons and neuropsychologists works together to conduct a comprehensive evaluation. We’ll collect a detailed history of your child’s headaches to determine the appropriate next steps for diagnosis, which may include imaging, lab work or more extensive testing.

We’ll then create an individualized care plan that may include treatment with medications or in-office procedures, along with lifestyle changes to prevent more headaches. In addition, our team can provide psychological intervention to teach your child and your family the skills to cope with headaches, including effective relaxation techniques. Mental health counseling (cognitive behavioral therapy) is also an option we offer, if needed.

Learn More About Our Neurology Care for Kids

Your little one’s brain deserves the very best care. If your child is struggling with frequent headaches or another neurological condition like epilepsy, sleep disorders, learning difficulties or a brain or spine disorder, we’re here for you.

Our experienced and caring specialists will guide your family, helping you understand the causes of your child’s symptoms and the best treatment options. Click here to learn more about our comprehensive pediatric neuroscience programs at AdventHealth for Children.

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