Q:Every now and then, my 10-year-old daughter complains of really bad headaches. It's difficult for me to tell if it's just a common, passing thing, or something more serious. How do I know when to take her to the doctor?
A:Headaches are common in children, and there are many symptoms to pay attention to in order to determine which type your daughter is experiencing.
A tension headache is the most common type of headache and happens when the muscles in the head and neck tighten and ache. Your daughter may feel like she has a tight band around her head. Emotional stress and fatigue are the two most common causes.
A congestion headache occurs with viral infections (such as colds and flu) and usually stops when the illness is over. Sinus congestion and infections can cause head pain around the eyes and nose.
Migraines in children are more common than many adults realize, though for children who experience migraines, there is often a family history. With migraines, pain may stay on one side of the head or both. Common symptoms of migraines - as opposed to occasional, mild headaches - include severe pain, sensitivity to light and sound, nausea and/or vomiting.
Because you mentioned that your daughter has had these "every now and then," consider keeping a headache diary with dates, times, duration, severity and symptoms of each episode. This will help with diagnosis and treatment should you visit your daughter's doctor.
You should call the doctor if you daughter starts to experience daily headaches, if they awaken your daughter from sleep or if she's experiencing migraine-like symptoms.
-Dr. Ann Pakalnis is an attending neurologist at Nationwide Children's and Professor of Clinical Pediatrics and Neurology at The Ohio State University College of Medicine. She is also Director of the Comprehensive Headache Clinic at Nationwide Children's.