Advice from CHKD's Dr. Jennifer Livingood Headaches in Children

CHKD Pediatric Associates

By Dr. Jennifer Livingood February 27, 2023

Headaches aren't just a grown-up problem. Kids can get headaches, too. Lack of sleep, stress, pressure at home and school, or conflict with loved ones can all trigger a headache.

Most headaches in children aren't caused by a serious medical condition. However, if your child's headaches worsen or occur frequently, you should contact your pediatrician.

There are many types of headaches. The two most common types in children are migraine and tension headaches. Both types can become more severe with added emotional or physical stress.

The main difference between tension and migraine headaches is that migraines are often accompanied by sensitivity to light and sound, nausea, vomiting, and dizziness. Over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen can help ease the pain associated with most headaches.

Other things to try:

Apply an ice pack to your child’s head or neck.

Have your child practice slow deep breathing.

Have your child take a nap or rest in a dark room.

Studies show that 8 to 23 percent of children between the ages of 11 and 15 have suffered a migraine. The percentage rises with age. Boys have more headaches before puberty, whereas girls are reported to have more during and after puberty.

Taking over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen more than three times a week for a headache can cause medication-overuse headaches, also known as rebound headaches. Parents should be careful not to give these medications too often.

To help prevent headaches, make sure your child:

Has a regular sleep schedule and isn't staying up too late.

Drinks plenty of fluids to avoid becoming dehydrated.

Schedules downtime every day.

Eats three balanced meals a day.

Call your doctor right away if your child's headache is:

Accompanied by a fever, stiff neck, or vomiting.

Interrupting or waking them from sleep.

Causing weakness in one arm or leg.

Affecting balance, coordination, or vision.

Be sure to talk to your child's pediatrician if you suspect your child is having migraines. Some children may benefit from prescription medication to help prevent them.