Welcome to our guide about headaches in kids! In this blog, we’ll review the different types of head pain your little ones might encounter – from pesky tension headaches to notorious migraines. We’ll dig into the everyday things that can trigger these headaches and how to help your kids feel better; whether it’s through medication or other tried and true pain management techniques. Plus, we’ll sprinkle in some tips on how to prevent these head-banging moments in the first place. And don’t worry, we’ll also cover when it’s time to call the doctor. 

Types of Headaches

Tension Headaches and Migraines

When it comes to children’s headaches, two main types take center stage: tension headaches and migraines. Tension headaches, stem from stressed head or neck muscles, and bring a constant, dull ache as if someone is pressing on the head’s front, back, or both sides. In contrast, migraines, though less frequent, bring pulsating pain, dizziness, stomachaches, nausea, and potential visual disturbances known as auras. These headaches can endure for various durations, worsening during physical activity or exposure to certain stimuli. Identifying these primary headaches, often signaled by changes in a child’s behavior, is crucial for effective management.

Secondary Headaches

There is another category of headaches called secondary headaches. These are far less common and linked to brain-related problems or other health conditions. These headaches require careful attention to ensure proper care for the child’s well-being. Understanding these distinctions is key to providing appropriate support and relief. Learning more about whether your child is suffering from a secondary type of headache requires speaking with your doctor and testing. See below for more information on when to contact a doctor. 

Common Causes

– Infections: Ear infections, flu, colds, strep throat, or sinus infections
– Head injuries
– Certain medications as potential side effects
– Inadequate sleep or sudden changes in sleep patterns
– Dehydration
– High stress levels/ muscle tension
– Allergies, including hay fever
– Menstruation or hormonal changes
– Skipping meals/ hunger
– Prolonged use of computers or watching TV
– Vision problems
– Long trips in cars or buses
– Exposure to loud music
– Smoking
– Strong odors like perfume, smoke, fumes, or new car or carpet smells
– Excessive caffeine intake from energy drinks, soda, coffee, tea, and chocolate
– Certain foods: Alcohol, cheese, nuts, pizza, chocolate, ice cream, fatty or fried food, lunchmeats, hot dogs, yogurt, aspartame, and MSG
– Harmless causes like vigorous exercise, bright sunlight, gum chewing, severe coughing, and consumption of icy food or drinks
– Genetic factors since migraines tend to run in families

Less common but more serious causes include:
– Head injuries
– Meningitis
– Other medical conditions like tumors, seizure disorders, and bleeding in the brain

Treating and Managing Pain


Headache treatment varies depending on the likely cause, as determined by a doctor. But many everyday headaches can be managed at home. For immediate relief, encourage your child to lie down in a cool, dark, and quiet room, placing a cool, moist cloth on their forehead or eyes. Ensure they are well-hydrated and have eaten. Migraine management may involve identifying and avoiding triggers, which can be tracked using a headache diary. Rest, decreased noise, fluids, balanced meals, and over-the-counter pain relievers often suffice for home treatment. These simple measures can offer comfort and relief to your child experiencing headaches or migraines.

For older children experiencing frequent headaches, stress management through therapies like relaxation training or cognitive behavioral therapy may be helpful.

Pain Management

For effective pain management in headaches, over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen can be administered. Ensure the correct dosage and timing as per the label instructions. It’s crucial to consult with a doctor if there are any uncertainties about the appropriate dosage, especially for those with existing medical conditions. Aspirin should be strictly avoided in children and teens, as it carries the risk of causing Reye syndrome, a potentially life-threatening condition.

However, caution is advised regarding the frequency of over-the-counter pain relievers since excessive use may lead to rebound headaches. It’s essential to be mindful of the risks and benefits associated with medications. Consider the potential side effects and speak to a healthcare professional for long-term solutions.

Preventing Headaches in Kids

Preventing headaches involves a proactive approach with a focus on identifying triggers and adopting healthy lifestyle habits. Keeping a journal to track potential triggers is a valuable tool for understanding and avoiding them. Lowering stress and anxiety through regular relaxation techniques or seeking support from a counselor can significantly contribute to prevention. A balanced and nutritious diet, with regular meals, especially breakfast, helps prevent deficiencies that may contribute to headaches. Ensuring adequate and consistent sleep, and any suspected sleep disturbances or disorders should be addressed with the guidance of a healthcare professional. And encouraging regular physical activity during headache-free periods is beneficial, as is maintaining proper hydration with non-caffeinated, low-sugar drinks throughout the day.

For persistent headaches or migraines, a healthcare provider can explore potential underlying causes and recommend ongoing treatment or preventative medications to manage and minimize their occurrence.

When to Seek Medical Help

Parents should closely monitor specific signs and symptoms that necessitate medical attention for their child’s headaches. Observing accompanying symptoms is crucial for the doctor to determine potential causes. Contact a doctor during office hours for concerns such as headaches without other symptoms lasting more than 24 hours. Such concerns include undiagnosed migraines, sore throat lasting over 48 hours, headaches persisting beyond three days, or frequent headaches. 

When to Seek Medical Advice within 24 Hours

  • Fever
  • Sinus pain
  • Swelling around the eye with pain
  • Headaches triggered by specific activities,
  • Headaches accompanied by eye or ear pain, confusion, nausea, vomiting, blurred vision or double vision
  • Sensitivity to light and sound
  • Numbness

When to Seek Emergency Care

Emergencies, such as when a child is difficult to wake up, has passed out, has a stiff neck, acts confused, displays weakness on one side of the body, or shows signs of dehydration, require immediate medical attention, including calling 911.

To Wrap Up

Effectively managing headaches in kids requires a multifaceted approach. Understanding the types of headaches and their triggers is key to managing them in children. Home remedies like rest and hydration offer initial relief, with proper or guided use of over-the-counter medications for pain. Prevention is crucial, including healthy sleep, regular exercise, and stress reduction. Seeking medical help when headaches are concerning or deviate from the norm is essential. By being informed, proactive, and attentive to each child’s needs, caregivers can navigate pediatric headaches and ensure their well-being.

Sources: Nemours, Mayo Clinic, VeryWell Health