- Pain or discomfort of the scalp or forehead areas
- The face and ears are excluded
- Viral illnesses: Most headaches are part of a viral illness, especially with colds. These usually last a few days.
- Muscle tension headaches: Most common type of recurrent headaches. Muscle tension headaches give a feeling of tightness around the head. The neck muscles also become sore and tight. Tension headaches can be caused by staying in one position for a long time, such as with reading or using a computer. Other children get tension headaches as a reaction to stress, such as pressure for better grades or family disagreements.
- Migraine headaches: Recurrent severe, incapacitating headaches
- Other common causes: Hunger, exertion, sunlight, coughing
- Frontal sinusitis: can cause a frontal headache just above the eyebrow. Rare before 10 years old because frontal sinus not developed. Other sinuses cause face pain, not headache.
- Serious causes: Meningitis or encephalitis. Symptoms include a headache, stiff neck, vomiting, fever and confusion,
When to Call Your Doctor for Headache
Call 911 If…
- Your child is difficult to awaken or has passed out
- Your child shows confused thinking/talking or slurred speech
- Your child has blurred or double vision
- Your child has weakness of arm or leg or unsteady walking
Call Your Doctor Now (night or day) If
- Your child looks or acts very sick
- Stiff neck (can't touch chin to chest)
- Severe headache
Call Your Doctor Within 24 Hours (between 9 am and 4 pm) If
- You think your child needs to be seen
- Sinus pain (not just congestion) of forehead
Call Your Doctor During Weekday Office Hours If
- You have other questions or concerns
- Headache without other symptoms present over 24 hours
- Sore throat present over 48 hours
- Any headache present over 3 days
- Headaches are a recurrent chronic problem
Parent Care at Home If
- Mild headache and you don't think your child needs to be seen
Home Care Advice for Headaches
Treatment for Mild Headache
- Pain Medicine: Give acetaminophen (e.g., Tylenol) or ibuprofen for pain relief (see Dosage table on container). Headaches due to fever are also helped by fever reduction.
- Food: Give fruit juice or food if your child is hungry or hasn't eaten in more than 4 hours (Reason: Skipping a meal can cause a headache in many children).
- Rest: Lie down in a quiet place and relax until feeling better.
- Local Cold: Apply a cold wet washcloth or cold pack to the forehead for 20 minutes.
- Stretching: Stretch and massage any tight neck muscles.
- Call Your Doctor If:
- Headache becomes severe
- Vomiting occurs
- Isolated headache lasts over 24 hours
- Headache lasts over 3 days
- Your child becomes worse
Muscle Tension Headaches: Extra Advice
- If something is bothering your child, help him talk about it and get it off his mind.
- Teach your child to take breaks from activities that require sustained concentration. Encourage your child to do relaxation exercises during the breaks.
- Teach your child the importance of getting adequate sleep.
- If over-achievement causes headaches, help your child find more balance.
- Caution: Your child should have a complete medical checkup before you conclude that recurrent headaches are due to worrying too much or stress.
Treatment for Migraine Headache
- Reassurance: This headache is similar to previous migraine headaches that your child has experienced.
- Migraine Medication:
- If your child's doctor has prescribed a specific medication for migraine, give it as directed as soon as the migraine starts.
- If not, ibuprofen is the best over-the-counter drug for migraine. Give ibuprofen now and repeat in 6 hours if needed (See Dosage Table).
- Sleep: Have your child lie down in a dark, quiet place and try to fall asleep. People with migraine often awaken from sleep with their migraine gone.
- Call Your Doctor If:
- Headache becomes much worse than usual
- Headache lasts longer than usual
And remember, contact your doctor if your child develops any of the "When to Call Your Doctor" symptoms.
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This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. It is provided for educational purposes only. You assume full responsibility for how you choose to use this information.
Author and Senior Reviewer: Barton D. Schmitt, M.D.
Last Reviewed: 8/1/2010
Last Revised: 9/15/2010
Copyright 1994-2011 Barton D. Schmitt, M.D.