Headaches in Children: Relief, Prevention and What to Watch For

Headaches in children cause problems in approximately 20% of all children between the ages of 5-17, according to The National Headache Foundation (NHF) at headaches.org.

These kids and teenagers experience headaches at least 15 days per month.

This translates into 10.3 million kids in the US alone.

What about other cultures, headaches do not discriminate between cultures.

These US statistics both astound and horrify me.

What are we doing about it?

Migraines and headaches in children occur again and again, and most studies say more research is needed. Using the US statistics, most children will experience at least one headache by the time they graduate high school, and the odds go up if there is a family history of neurological disease or migraines.

Headache Classifications

Headaches in Children Look Different Than Adults

Headaches in children are classified in similar categories to adults.

These classifications are Primary or Benign and Secondary.

Primary or Benign are tension type migraines and;

Secondary is originating from organic causes, tumor, disease, abscess or head trauma.


Primary Causes

Ok, so here are some more statistics – if you haven’t noticed – I like statistics, it gives me an idea of who else is suffering along with me. At this point, right now, and up to now, I have never had a friend or know a single person personally who suffers from migraines. Its just me - but I know you are out there.

Oh dear – I digress! “Of the 20% of child headache sufferers, approximately 15% experience tension type headaches, and 5% have migraines”.

Here is what tension type headache symptoms look like:

• Pain will be described as a tight band around their head

• No nausea or vomiting accompanying the headache

• Stress at school, in family dynamics, or from friends can be a trigger, so it might be necessary to talk to your child about other emotional factors that may be causing them stress or upset

• Blurred vision, like squinting while watching television

• Boys are more likely than girls to have headaches (and migraines) before the age of ten (before puberty).

Secondary Causes

When a diagnosis is from secondary causes with headaches in children, this means viral and bacterial infections are the causes of the headaches.

If you suspect any other cause or if new or sudden symptoms accompany the headache, like: fever, exhaustion and stiff neck, your child could have meningitis or encephalitis and you should seek medical attention immediately.”

The doctor will do tests to rule out other more serious causes like: pressure around the brain, brain tumors, infections or blood clots.

Some obvious symptoms to watch for are: nausea, vomiting, clumsiness, muscle weakness, seizures, and personality changes.

Headache Triggers

Bad posture, eyestrain, hunger – skipping meals, neck injury, head injury, anxiety over dreaded events – tests at school, siblings fighting, parents fighting or divorce.

Relief From Headache

The most effective medicines for headaches in children according to Migraines for Dummies are ibuprofen or acetaminophen.

It is also recommended to be aware of any emotional side effects and or stressful factors affecting your child.

It might be necessary to talk with them about it all, or find the help of a professional school counselor or a counselor that works specifically in your child's problem area.

I can recommend getting extra support from this on-line professional pain counseling company who can talk to you and your child in the comfort of your own home 24/7.

I find that these meditation CD's also help:

Migraine Symptoms Look Different Than Headache Symptoms

What to watch for:

• Throbbing or dull pain on one or both sides of the head, typically across the forehead (adults are most typically one sided)

• Can be accompanied by nausea leading to vomiting, but more typically is not

• Pain typically lasts one to three hours

• Loss of appetite

• Fatigue

• Irritability

• Pale appearance

• Glassy eyes

• Food cravings

• Dizziness

• Diarrhea

• Fever

• Often NO noise or light sensitivities, but they can occur

• Visual disturbances (flashing lights or tunnel vision) 


And after puberty girls get more migraines than boys.

NHF statistics show that ”migraines will occur in about one-quarter of migraine sufferers before the age of five and in about half before the age of 20”.

Children commonly get abdominal migraines or stomach migraines.

If your child is quite young, drawing a picture of their migraine can help you see more of their symptoms.

They will often have trouble linking nausea or vomiting to the migraine or pain, and the throbbing pain we are familiar with as adults is more typically dull and across their forehead (Marcus, 2006, p. 14).

The National Headache Foundation (NHF) offers a variety of advice and resources to help you and your child cope with headache.

More Serious Signs Associated with Headaches in Children

According to web MD.com if you see any other symptoms like these in your child listed below – they may indicate a more serious problem and you should consult your GP, Doctor, or physician immediately: 

Headaches in Children With Dad

• Changes in the patterns of the headaches that have been occurring for less than six months. If they seem to get worse, do not improve, or are not affected after medications or treatment.

• Other changes like an increase in intensity, severity or if the headaches become more frequent over time.

Also, as these symptoms are NOT common with migraine headaches in children, please be aware of: nausea or vomiting, weakness, dizziness, loss of balance or fainting, numbness or paralysis, difficulty speaking or confusion, visual disturbances, and any personality changes.

This includes lethargy, being indifferent, apathetic, or sleeping too much. I realize this may look like the normal teenager, so, I mean more so to watch for personality changes linked to having a migraine episode the next day.

5 Steps for Headache Prevention

According to the National Headache Foundation (NHF) these five simple things can help reduce and avoid headaches:

Headaches in Children 5 Tips

• Keep eating times regular and form healthy habits. There is significant research that proves that many children have fewer and less distressing attacks after routine and a sense of regularity is established. 

• Stay hydrated. Dehydration can trigger headaches. So this means water, not sugary sodas or caffeinated drinks.

Water - sipped slowly every 15 minutes is more effective than throwing down a whole glass in one go. Homemade drinks are best where you can control the sugar dose – lemonade from real lemons. An apple is also like having a glass of water. Sorry, but I do not recall where I read that one!

• This one almost goes without saying, but, limit caffeine and sugar consumption.

• Keep TV watching and computer usage to a minimum, especially one hour before bed.

• Keep regular sleeping times and perform sleep rituals, form habits for a healthy winding down and going to sleep routine.

I Also Recommend

Biofeedback and progressive muscle relaxation techniques are widely recommended for children that experience headaches and migraines.

They respond well.

Here is an easy migraine relaxation technique for you to use right now. 

Read More

There is a wealth of information in these 3 books. Learning more about headaches and migraines will help you manage your child's painful episodes much easier.

Until next time, be well and be pain free,

Holly



Headaches in Children References:

1. National Headache Foundation (2011) Children experience frequent headaches [Online], Available at: http://www.headaches.org /blog/children-experience-frequent-headaches. Accessed Feb. 2016.
2. Stafford, D. and Shoquist, J. MD. (2003) Migraines for Dummies. Wiley Publishing, Inc: New York. p.243.
3. Marcus, Dr. Dawn A. (2006) 10 Simple Solutions to Migraines: Recognize triggers, control symptoms and reclaim your life. New Harbinger Publications: CA. p. 14.
4. Migraine Headaches (2010) When to worry about your child’s headaches [Online], Available at: http://www.webmd.com/migraines-headaches. Accessed June 2016.


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With this new information, what one thing can you do now to reduce your attacks?