Headaches aren’t just for adults, kids get them too. But if the sufferer is a child, the discomfort can put parents under enormous strain and anxiety. Knowing how to handle and treat a headache in a youngster can help you and your child feel better.
Causes of headaches in children
Various factors can cause your child to develop a headache, says Bonitas Medical Fund. These include:
- Illness: One of the most frequent causes is a common illness such as a cold, flu or an ear and sinus infection
- Head injuries: A bump to the head can cause a headache. Although most head injuries are minor, you need to seek medical attention if your child hits their head in a sports game or in an accidental fall
- Emotions: Stress and anxiety caused by issues with friends, teachers or parents can be a cause of headaches in children
- Genetic predisposition: Headaches, in particular migraines, tend to run in families
- Food and drinks: Preservatives such as nitrates, found in cured meats like bacon and hot dogs, can trigger headaches. So can the flavour enhancer MSG. Too much coffee, carbonated drinks and chocolate can be another cause of headaches
- Brain problems: Very rarely, but in extreme cases, a brain tumour or bleeding in the brain can cause a chronic headache. Typically these are accompanied by other symptoms, such as visual problems (blurred vision) and dizziness
- Dehydration: If your child’s body loses water faster than it can be replenished, like on a hot day out in the sun, it can cause a headache
- Allergic reactions: These headaches areusually accompanied by a runny nose, congestion and red eyes
- Lack of sleep: Not enough sleep and even poor sleep quality are often the cause of chronic headaches in children.
Although children get the same types of headaches as adults, the symptoms they experience may be a little different. These may make it difficult to identify the type and cause of the headache, especially in a younger child who can’t describe their symptoms.
Symptoms may include but are not limited to:
- Neck pain
- Crying or screaming
- Abdominal pain
- Decrease in general alertness
- Extreme sensitivity to light and sound
- Difficulty walking, standing or talking.
Treating your child’s headache
Most headaches aren’t serious, so it’s important to assess the situation calmly first. Ask about his/her pain and try to get a description of what the headache feels like. Determine if there are other (emotional) issues worrying them.
Most of the time you can treat your child’s headache at home with over-the-counter (OTC) pain medication (make sure you check the dosages relevant for the age of your child), rest, decreased noise and plenty of fluids. But beware not to give your child pain relievers on an ongoing basis. If the headaches persist, or includes one or more of the following signs, you should seek immediate medical care:
- It wakes your child from sleep
- It worsens or become more frequent
- It follows an injury, such as a blow to the head
- It features persistent vomiting or visual changes
- It is accompanied by fever and neck pain or stiffness.
Following healthy habits that promote general good health – like getting enough quality sleep, eating healthily and staying physically active – may help you prevent headaches or reduce the severity of headaches in your child. The following tips may also help:
- Take it easy: Stress and an overly busy schedule may increase the frequency of your child’s headaches. Stress may include factors such as difficult schoolwork and conflict (bullying) at school
- Keep track of the headaches: A diary can help you determine what causes your child’s headaches. Write down when it starts, what your child ate and did beforehand, how long it lasts and what brings relief
- Record how your child reacts to headache medication: Over time, you should start to understand your child’s symptoms and what you can do as preventive measures
- Avoid triggers: By keeping a diary you can cut out specific foods or drinks that seem to trigger the headaches.
Bonitas provides a range of benefits to help keep your child healthy. This includes a 24-hour advice line called Babyline for toddlers (up to 3 years of age). Bonitas parents, or their caregivers, can simply call 0860 999 121 to reach a paediatric-trained nurse for professional advice.