Kids Get Headaches Too. What To Look For…

Middleschooler and headachesChildren certainly are capable of getting headaches at all ages; the younger the child the more difficult it is to know these are occurring. Under age two it may be impossible to know if your child has a headache but whatever the age, it is important to answer certain questions regarding the overall health of your child.

  • Mild Infection: If we are talking about a single headache that is non repetitive in nature, the most common reason is usually a concurrent mild infection (usually viral). Your child might also have signs and symptoms of a cold or mild fever, and is otherwise normal in behavior and activity. It is always good not to use medicines unless absolutely necessary for the cold symptoms as well as the headache, which is merely another symptom like runny nose, cough and low grade fever. Acetaminophen or ibuprofen can be used short term in appropriate doses if you child seems very uncomfortable.
  • Sinus infections can also cause headaches: this is usually in older children and tends to be in a facial or forehead distribution. Again your child will generally not be very ill but the complaint might occur during or after a cold.

Of course, there can be more serious reasons for headache in all children. The next two are less common, but still important to note:

  • Brain Tumor: Headache due to a brain tumor can occur but there are usually other findings and symptoms. But if your child is complaining about headache that is getting worse over time and might be associated with vomiting, weight loss, unusual behavior, and might very well be worse first thing in the morning you will want to take him or her to the Pediatrician as soon as you can.
  • Meningitis (inflammation of the membranes covering the brain and occasionally the brain itself) is a very serious and rapidly progressive illness associated with severe headache, and changes in level of consciousness, with fever and possibly seizures occurring in rapid progression. Your child may start off only mildly ill but in a very short time will be rapidly get worse. Go directly to the emergency department.

While most headaches are mild and due to mild concurrent illnesses, if your child is acting very sick with or without fever, call your Doctor for instructions.

  • Concussions: Of course a topic of relevance for quite some time now is concussions and this is another discussion to be taken up in the future. Concussion however can result in recurrent headaches for some time (occasionally measured in months) after an injury as part of a post-concussion syndrome.
  • Migraines: Chronic or long term headaches also occur in children and if there is a history of migraines in the family, your child is having severe headaches on one side of his/her head, associated with vomiting or nausea, and followed by a period of sleep after which the child feels fine, he/she might very well have migraines and should be seen by your Doctor- if only to rule out some of the illnesses mentioned above.
  • Tension and/or anxiety: In older children a very common reason for recurrent headaches of a benign nature is tension or continued anxiety. Still other illnesses (like those mentioned above) must be ruled out and communication with your child is required to delve in to the reasons for a tension type headache. Most of the time a diagnosis of tension headache is made after ruling out other causes

About the Author

Dr. Joseph Skoloff received his undergraduate degree from the University of Pennsylvania and his medical degree from The Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia. He is a past Vice Chairman of the Department of Pediatrics, a past Chairman of the Infection Control Committee at the Loudoun Hospital Center and a Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics. In his 41 years as a practicing pediatrician he has kept hundreds of kids and families healthy and safe and plans to continue to do so for years to come. Dr. Joe believes strongly in the combined power of parent and physician working together for the health of their children. He is an advocate for children everywhere and and adheres strongly to the principles of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Dr Joe is a member of the PedSafe Expert team


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