Written by Dr. Laura White
Parents are often concerned when their child complains of pain in their head, however headaches in children are fairly common and can typically be managed at home with appropriate supportive care. The information given below is specifically for primary recurrent headaches, not headaches associated with fever or illness.
Urgent reasons to bring your child to their pediatrician due to headaches include:
- A young child less than 6 years of age
- New onset headache (no previous complaints and interfering with normal activities)
- Headache that wakes the child from a sound sleep (not awakening in the morning with a headache)
- Severe stabbing pain interfering with normal activity
- Headaches that only occur with exercise, not at rest
- No family members with headaches (this is extremely uncommon)
Urgent reasons to call the office include:
- Patient experiencing the worst headache of their life
- History of an aura that lasts more than an hour (auras described below)
- Persistent headache in the back of the head above the neck (not located elsewhere in the head)
- Headaches that occur with any unusual behaviors (abnormal walking, talking, thinking)
Auras are warning signs that a headache will start and can include:
- vision changes (loss of vision, blurry vision, spots/floaters, tunnel vision)
- sensory changes (numbness, tingling, pins and needles sensation)
- unusual change in taste
- trouble talking
- weakness on one side of the body
Symptoms that can occur with headaches include:
- nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain
- sensitivity to light, sound, smells
- spinning sensation
- tearing of eyes and nose
- ringing in the ears
- changes in vision
Keeping a headache diary is helpful to monitor symptoms and disability.
- How many days are effected?
- Severity rating (scale from 1-mild to 10-severe)
- Location of headache
- Auras (warnings) of eminent headache
- Symptoms occurring with headache
- Duration of headache
- What made it better?
- What made it worse?
- Did the headache interfere with normal activities?
What you can do to prevent headaches:
- Drink 64-100 ounces of fluids daily (Water is preferable, No Caffeine!)
- Eat a healthy diet three times a day that includes lots of green leafy vegetables that are rich in vitamin B2, which is essential in preventing headaches
- Exercise 30 minutes/day at least 5 days/week to increase your natural endorphins that control headache pain.
- Sleep continuously 8-10 hours/night, which decreases headache frequency and severity.
- Learn relaxation techniques to manage stress (meditation, deep breathing, yoga)
- Avoid triggers such as caffeine, dehydration, skipping meals, irregular sleep patterns.
What you can do when your child has a headache:
- Hydrate with 24-32 ounces of a sports drink
- Consider Ibuprofen (not Tylenol), but never more than three times/week or six times/month.
- Let them rest in a quiet, dark room
When do you need to see your pediatrician?
- If your child’s headaches are interfering with the quality of their life (missing school or activities)
- Bring your child’s headache diary to that appointment
- We will have you fill out a new visit headache questionnaire
The providers at Northeast Cincinnati Pediatrics are working directly with the Headache Clinic at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center to improve the care of your child with headaches. Our goal is to decrease headache frequency and disability by educating families on prevention, treatment, and pain management. Please feel free to make an appointment with your primary care provider to discuss any concerns. Your child’s health and well-being are our primary concern.
Laura K. White, M.D.
Northeast Cincinnati Pediatrics