Headache in Children: Symptoms, Causes, Risk Factors, Prevention, Diagnosis, Treatment and Advice

This type of pain is not only for adults. Approximately 1 in 5 school-age children and adolescents are likely to have them too.

Headaches in children are common and are usually not serious. Like adults, children can develop different types of headaches, such as migraine or headaches related to stress (tension). Children can also have chronic headaches every day.

Tension headaches are the most common type of headache in children. But around 5% of children suffer from migraines, some from 4 years.

In some cases, headaches in children are caused by infection, high levels of stress or anxiety, or mild head trauma. It is important to pay attention to your child’s headache symptoms and to consult a doctor if the headache worsens or occurs frequently.

You may worry that your child’s headache is a sign of a more serious problem, such as a brain tumor. But that is not true for most childhood headaches. Do not worry so much, by tracking the symptoms and talking to your doctor, together you can find treatments.

Symptoms of headache in children

Children have the same examples of headaches as adults, but the symptoms may be different. For example, migraine pain in children can persist a little less than four (04) hours, as for adults, migraine headaches last at least four (04) hours.

Differences in symptoms can make it difficult to identify the type of headache in a child, especially in a smaller child who can not describe the symptoms. However, in general, certain symptoms tend to decrease more frequently in certain categories.


Migraines can cause:

  • Pulsing, throbbing or throbbing headache.
  • Pain that gets worse with the effort.
  • Nausea.
  • He retched.
  • Abdominal pain.
  • Extreme sensitivity to light and sound.
  • Even babies can have migraines. A child who is too young to tell you what is wrong can cry and hold his head to indicate severe pain.

Tension headache

Tension-type headaches can cause:

  • An oppression in the muscles of the head or neck.
  • Mild to moderate pain, without brushes, on both sides of the head.
  • Pain that gets worse with physical activity
  • Headache that is not accompanied by nausea or vomiting, as is usually the case with migraine.
  • Younger children withdraw from the game activity and prefer to sleep more. Tension-type headaches can last from 30 minutes to several days.

Headache in Clusters

Cluster headaches are rare in children under 10 years of age. They usually:

  • They occur in groups of five or more episodes, ranging from a headache every two days to eight per day.
  • It involves sharp, throbbing pain on one side of the head that lasts less than three hours.
  • It is accompanied by tears, congestion, nasal discharge, restlessness or agitation.
  • Chronic daily headache.
  • Doctors use the phrase “chronic daily headache” for migraines and tension headaches that occur more than 15 days a month. It can be caused by an infection, a minor head injury or taking pain medications, including over-the-counter pain medications, too often.


Most children contract them due to illness, infection (such as a cold) or fever. For example, sinusitis (inflammation of the sinuses) and infections of the throat or ear can trigger headaches.

Headaches for migraine are a different story. Doctors do not know exactly what causes them, but they do know that they are related to the physical and chemical changes in the brain, as well as the genes that parents transmit to their children.

Approximately 7 out of 10 children with migraine have a family member with a history. Similar things, such as fatigue, bright lights and changes in weather, can even trigger their attacks. Other migraine triggers include stress, anxiety, depression, change in sleep patterns, loud noises or certain foods.

Too much physical activity or too much sun can cause a migraine in some children as well. Girls can get them due to hormonal changes when they get their periods. This type of headache is called menstrual migraine.

Common causes of tension headaches include emotional stress, eye strain due to poor vision, and neck or back strain linked to poor posture.

Most headaches are harmless. But if they get worse over time and occur with certain other symptoms, they can be a sign of a more serious problem. A series of agents can cause your child to develop headaches. The factors include:

Disease and infection : Diseases such as colds, flu and ear infections (or more serious meningitis or encephalitis) are the most frequent causes of headaches in children.

Head trauma : Bruising and bruising can cause headaches. Although most head injuries are minor, seek immediate medical attention if your child receives a severe blow to the head. Also, contact a doctor if the headache worsens steadily after an injury.

Emotional factors : Stress and anxiety, perhaps triggered by problems with peers, teachers or parents, can play a role in children’s headaches. Children with depression may complain of headaches, especially if they have trouble recognizing feelings of sadness and loneliness.

Genetic predisposition : Headaches, especially migraines, tend to occur in families.

Certain foods and beverages : Nitrates, a preservative found in cured meats, such as bacon, bologna sausage and hot dogs, can trigger headaches. In addition, the excessive amount of caffeine in soft drinks, chocolates, coffees and teas can cause headaches.

Brain problems : Rarely, a brain tumor, abscess, or hemorrhage in the brain can put pressure on areas of the brain and cause a chronic, worsening headache. Normally, in these cases, however, there are other symptoms, such as visual problems, dizziness and lack of coordination.

Risk factor’s

All children may have headaches, but they are more common in:

  • The girls after the development.
  • Children with a history of headaches.
  • Older teenagers


The following can help you prevent headaches or reduce the severity of headaches in children:

Practice healthy behaviors : Behaviors that promote good general health can also help prevent headaches for your child. These lifestyle measures include getting enough sleep, staying physically active, eating healthy meals and snacks, drinking four to eight glasses of water a day and avoiding caffeine.

Reduce stress : Stress and schedules can increase the frequency of headaches. Be aware that it can cause stress in your child’s life, such as difficulty doing chores or strained relationships with peers. If your child’s headaches are related to anxiety or depression, consider talking with a counselor.

Keep a diary of your headache : A diary can help you determine what causes your child’s headaches. Keep in mind when headaches begin, how long they last and what, if anything, provides relief.

Record your child’s response to taking any headache medication. Over time, the items you write down in the headache journal should help you understand your child’s symptoms so he can take specific preventive measures.

Avoid headache triggers : Avoid any food or drink, such as those that contain caffeine, that seem to trigger headaches. Your headache diary can help you determine what causes your child’s headaches, so you know what to avoid.

Follow your doctor’s plan : Your doctor can recommend preventive medications if the headaches are severe, occur daily and interfere with your child’s normal lifestyle. Certain medications taken at regular intervals, such as certain antidepressants or anticonvulsant medications, can reduce the frequency and severity of headaches.

When to see a Doctor

Most headaches are not serious, but seek immediate medical attention if your child’s headaches:

  • Awaken your son from the dream.
  • Get worse or become more frequent
  • Change the personality of your child.
  • Follow an injury, like a blow to the head.
  • Presents persistent vomiting or visual changes.
  • They are accompanied by fever and pain or stiff neck.

When speaking for the first time about the child’s headache with the family doctor, ask about the action plan and the time frame. Then, if the headache symptoms continue or become more frequent despite treatment and different approaches.

Ask your family doctor or pediatrician for a referral to a specialist: for children, a pediatric neurologist; for teenagers, a specialist in headache. With the right diagnosis and the specific treatment plan, a young person can enjoy a full and rewarding life.

To find a headache specialist, request a referral to your GP.


For migraine or tension-type headache in pediatric patients, a complete history and a physical examination are usually sufficient. Laboratory, radiological or electroencephalogram studies are not useful to confirm the diagnosis of migraine, but they can help to exclude other causes of headache.

For headaches associated with head trauma or significant intracranial hemorrhage, the following laboratory studies may be indicated:

  • Complete blood count.
  • Prothrombin time.
  • Activated partial thromboplastin time.
  • The lumbar puncture can reveal high opening pressure, leukocytosis, high protein and low glucose. It is the most sensitive test in the diagnosis of subarachnoid hemorrhage.

Diagnostic images are not routinely indicated unless a structural cause is suspected or, possibly, unless the patient is very young and there is no family history. The modalities include the following:

  • Sinus radiography.
  • Computed tomography.
  • Magnetic resonance image.

The electroencephalogram may be useful to assess the status of an underlying seizure disorder associated with headache or to exclude seizures in children with acute confusional migraines.

Importance of a Diagnosis

Determining the cause and type of headache can be challenging even for an experienced doctor.

To develop an accurate diagnosis, the evaluation process should include a very detailed history of the child and parents (who should be associated with their doctors throughout the entire diagnosis and treatment process), a complete physical examination and a complete neurological examination.

By taking a history, your family doctor or pediatrician will become a detective looking for clues:

  • How does the headache feel?
  • Where is the location of the pain?
  • What is its severity?
  • Does it appear without warning, or are there signs that it is approaching?
  • Is there weakness, nausea, sensitivity to light or noise, lethargy, dizziness?
  • Are there auras (bright lights, blind spots, changes in vision)?
  • How long is the headache? Do headaches occur after eating certain foods or beverages (soda with caffeine, pizza or chocolate)?
  • Do some situations, events or physical activity cause a headache?
  • Are the symptoms of a child’s headache similar to those experienced by other family members?

These are just some of the questions. A physical and neurological examination will verify muscle weakness, balance or vision problems and other neurological signs that could contribute to a chronic or recurrent headache.

If the symptoms persist, or are not handled properly through medications or treatment without medication, then you should consider consulting a specialist.

Treatment of headache in children

The treatment of pediatric headache is of 3 basic types:

  • Symptomatic.
  • Abortive.
  • Price quotation.

The drugs used in the symptomatic treatment are chosen according to the following:

  • Type and frequency of headache.
  • Type of symptoms present.
  • Profile of adverse effects.
  • Comorbidities present.

The non-pharmacological treatment of migraine and tension headaches includes the following:

  • Elimination of identified precipitants.
  • Changes in lifestyle.
  • The relief of stress.

Abortive therapy for migraine and tension headaches may include the following:

  • Triptans (sumatriptan, almotriptan, rizatriptan and others).
  • Isometepteno y Ergotamina.
  • Analgesics.

Prophylactic therapy for migraine and tension headaches may include the following:

  • Beta blockers.
  • Tricyclic antidepressants.
  • Anticonvulsants
  • Calcium channel blockers.

The treatment of chronic daily headache may include the following:

  • Combination of therapies used for tension and migraine.
  • Discontinuation of over-the-counter analgesics and all narcotics.
  • Tricyclic antidepressants.
  • Psychological, behavioral and relaxation interventions.
  • Abortive therapy.

Advice for Parents

Parents want their children to have a normal, active and happy life. It is natural, then, to worry when a child or adolescent has been diagnosed with tension or migraine type headaches.

And, if the headache is migraine, some parents feel unnecessarily guilty because their child may have inherited this condition. Or, if a parent also has migraines, their identification with this problem could inhibit objectivity by helping the child.

As a parent, you should be sensitive to your child’s headaches, not only because of the real pain but also because of the fact that a child will sometimes feel excluded from family, school or friends activities because the headache prevents the child from participating.

Acknowledge their concerns and help them understand what is happening. But remember, too much attention or pampering is counterproductive. Excessive reaction does not help the child put the headache in perspective, and could create problems with other siblings or with their child’s friends.

Once the pediatrician or pediatric neurologist of a child has diagnosed the headache and ruled out the organic causes, you should help your child have a rewarding lifestyle.


Tension headaches are almost always caused by emotional stress and migraines can be aggravated by stress. Therefore, it is essential to understand what causes your child’s stress, as well as your own, and how you both can handle it.

Counseling can be very useful in identifying stress (which is particularly relevant to tension-type headaches) and in teaching a child how to cope better with headaches in daily life. If counseling is possible, you can try it.

Headache at Home

When your child develops a headache or feels that you are coming, suggest a room in low light, offer medicine and an ice pack if it helps. Be sensitive and sensitive to the headache without pampering, and treat this child in the same way you treat your other children.

Healthy and Moderate Lifestyle

Successful control of headaches includes balanced and nutritious meals, complete and regular sleep patterns, physical exercise, activities and avoiding foods or environmental triggers. However, during the course of a headache, they should minimize physical activity as it aggravates the headache.

School and Communication

It is important for parents to discuss headaches with school health professionals and teachers. Your child’s doctor can write a letter explaining the importance of the treatment when the headache begins. Give medications and instructions for use to the school nurse.

Explain to each teacher, each semester, that at the time a child feels the signs of a headache, he should be allowed to leave the class, go to the infirmary to look for medication and rest until the symptoms subside.

School absences

There will be times when a headache will cause a child to arrive late to school, leave school early or miss a day of school, but you should not miss more than five days per semester. If a child loses more than five days, an additional evaluation may be necessary.

If a child loses more than 20 days a year, parents should look for signs of stress. Discouraging “school refusal” and homeschooling should not be considered a solution to headaches.

Parents and Doctors

Some children diagnosed will find immediate relief with the prescribed treatment. With other children, doctors may have to try some approaches before they succeed. If symptoms persist, then it’s time to ask your family doctor to refer you to a pediatric neurologist or specialist.


Avoid excess activities. If a particular activity triggers a headache, avoid it if possible and, if it can not be avoided, discuss how it might be more manageable. Your pediatrician, psychologist, teachers or other children may have suggestions for alternative activities.

Impact on the School

When children experience chronic headaches, it affects them at school. Your success in life depends not only on a correct diagnosis and effective treatment, but also on understanding the responses of educators and school health professionals.

Educators and School Health Professionals:

He wants his students to perform well academically and participate in school and extracurricular activities. But chronic headaches could affect a child’s concentration, performance and attendance. However, a young person with headaches can, with their understanding, do well in school.

Advice for Educators

Legitimate Biological Disease

Chronic tension-type headaches in a child are real answers (not excuses) to stress or personal, family or school-related challenges. Whether it is a pop math test, an early grammar test or school play, each child responds differently.

While a child suffering from migraines has probably inherited a predisposition to them, these headaches can also be the result of environmental foods or triggers.

Identify Stress

It is important to help the child identify sources of stress at school, for example, problems learning math, science or another language, or a next test. The recognition, understanding and encouragement of a caring teacher can help a young person with headaches.

Absences to Classes

If a child with headaches seems to miss too many classes, then you should discuss this with the student and their parents. When a young person knows that the school environment is comprehensive and supportive, then headaches should not be used as a reason to miss school, or for more than a minimum amount of time.

When a child feels a headache during school, encourage him or her to lie down in the nurse’s room during a headache, or until symptoms subside to a more manageable level, but then return to class or school.


When a child (or his father or mother) warns him about headaches, offer him a sensitive reaction that does not embarrass the child in front of his peers. However, if a child suffers from headaches but the teacher or the school health professional has not been informed of a specific condition, they should talk to the parents.

Allow Immediate Treatment

Children with migraine eventually learn the warning signs, sometimes including dizziness, nausea, and sensitivity to light and sound. The real headache may be accompanied by vomiting. If, during a class, the child explains that he must take medication, encourage him to go to the infirmary.

It is important to take medication as soon as the first signs of headache appear. Waiting until the end of the class could put a young person in a more vulnerable situation and force him to miss more school days than necessary.


By the time they are teenagers, women with migraines will probably experience more headaches due to hormonal changes.


Treat children with chronic headaches the same way they would treat any other child.