Illnesses Kids

Children And Headaches – Cause For Concern?

Children and headaches

As adults we know just how debilitating a headache can be. Children tend to experience far fewer headaches than adults do, however headaches are not uncommon in kids. For parents though, it’s a concern when their child complains of an aching head on a regular basis.
It is important to bear in mind that there are several possible causes for headaches in kids and usually the root cause of the headache can be quickly established and treated. There are only a very small number of children who complain of regular headaches that have serious causes, like a brain tumour or other life-threatening infections. In most cases, the cause of a headache is treatable and non-life threatening.


Possible causes of headaches in kids

  • Children who are suffering with a common cold, flu, allergies, sinus infections or ear infections will more than likely experience a dull type of headache. The headache can be treated at home and various methods can be used to reduce the ache. Once the symptoms of the illness have passed, the headache will disappear.
  • Bacterial meningitis is a very serious and life-threatening infection that will definitely cause a headache. However, other symptoms will also be present with the headache. The symptoms of bacterial meningitis include a high fever, sensitivity to light, neck stiffness, nausea, vomiting, confusion, lethargy, and irritability. If the child is complaining of a sore head, and is experiencing any of the above symptoms, parents need to seek medical attention.
  • Stress-related headaches. These are more common in older children than in pre-school kids. If a child is worried or concerned about an issue at school, they may suffer from stress-induced or stress-worsened headaches. Should a family be experiencing problems, the child could also suffer from these types of headaches. The pain is commonly focused over the forehead area and the child may complain of a constricting band of pain around the head. Pain caused by this type of headache is fairly moderate, and is not a throbbing pain. The pain can last for as little as 30 minutes or can continue for several days. Kids with such stress-related or tension aches may be sensitive to light and noise, or the constant dull ache can cause them to feel dizzy or lethargic.

If the child is suffering from continual stress-related headaches, it is important to ascertain the cause. Parents may find it useful to talk to their child’s teacher to find out if there are any underlying problems. Stress headaches can also be triggered or worsened by a lack of sleep or by diet.

It’s often suggested that kids who suffer from chronic stress-related headaches attend psychological counselling where a trained counsellor will be able to get to the bottom of the problem. There are some kids who are worriers by nature and the slightest upset (such as failing a test, etc.) may be the root cause of their stress.

An injury to the head can occur at any time and is a major cause of headaches. The head can be injured while playing sports or while playing at home. Kids with a head injury will also experience nausea, vomiting, and if severe, the injury may lead to a loss of consciousness. A child with a head injury must be taken to a medical professional immediately, who will assess the extent of the injury and determine the treatment necessary.

Migraines or cluster headaches. The symptoms of a migraine differ in kids and adults and children at different ages may suffer from a variety of symptoms. In young children (preschool age), a migraine tends to occur in late afternoon. The pain is throbbing and can last for an hour or two. The child might also complain of nausea and be sensitive to light and noise. The severe pain of the headache may cause vomiting and once the child has vomited, the pain often subsides. Certain migraine triggers have been identified and these include nuts, fizzy cooldrinks, coffee and chocolate.  It’s suggested that parents keep a list of what the child has eaten before an attack as this will help to rule out or identify any possible triggers. Toddlers are not immune to migraine attacks and although a toddler cannot verbalize the excruciating pain, the symptoms of a migraine could include, vomiting or rocking.

The aura headache is where kids who suffer from migraine headaches complain that their vision changes a few minutes before the actual migraine occurs. This is known as an aura and the child will being to see flashing or chess-board lights, zigzagged lines or can even partially lose their sight. Once the headache flairs up, the aura vanishes.

Cluster headaches are intense, incapacitating headaches which happen for weeks or even months at a time, after which there is a blissful headache-free period. Thankfully these types of headaches are very uncommon in kids younger than 10 and are only experienced by 0.1 percent of kids aged between the age of 10 and 18. Cluster headaches are a lot more common in boys. Cluster headaches can cause the eyes to become red and teary especially on the side where the pain is concentrated or is more intense. A runny nose, sweating, pale appearance, a drooping eyelid or eyelids are also symptoms of these debilitated types of headaches. Generally the pain caused by the cluster headache is short and can last for 15 minutes but there are kids who suffer with the pain for as long as 3 hours.

A chronic daily headache is a headache that is present for more than 15 days in a month for at least three months. In many cases, headaches are a daily occurrence and the majority of kids who are categorised as having chronic headaches, are usually migraine or stress-induced headache sufferers.


Calling a doctor

If a child has one or more of the following symptoms, the child must been seen by a medical professional:

  •  If the headache is as a result of a head injury;
  •  If pain is extremely intense and the child suffers from other symptoms, like vomiting, impaired vision or double vision, stiffness of the neck, confusion, loss of balance or and a fever higher than 38 ºC;
  •  If the child is woken up by the pain of a headache or wakes up most mornings with a sore head;
  •  If the headache sufferer is younger than three years old.


Changes to help reduce headaches

Kids who do not get enough fresh air and enough exercise are prone to more headaches, than those who regularly play outside in the fresh air and who watch less TV or play less computer games. Including more fresh fruits, vegetables and fibre in the child’s diet can also help to reduce attacks and by ensuring that the child drinks a sufficient amount of water throughout the day, and gets enough rest and sleep will also help to lower the frequency of headaches.

Children who have problems with their eyesight may also frequently complain of headaches!


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