Pediatric HealthSource: Headaches

Howard Jacobs, M.D.

Q: My daughter constantly complains that her head hurts. When should I be concerned about a headache and seek medical care?

A: Headaches are one of the most common health complaints of children. Yet they get little attention. Whether a headache is pounding, throbbing or just a nuisance, it is important to know when it's just a passing pain and when it's something more that requires medical attention.

Myth: A headache is just a headache. Physicians often see two types of headaches: tension headaches and migraines caused by sinus infections, too little sleep, eye strain, stress, injuries or using the computer or watching TV too long. Tension headaches tend to feel like tightening around the head and can be treated by allowing the child to go on with his or her day. Migraines are less common but are far more painful, often accompanied by nausea, vomiting and sensitivity to light, sound and smell.

Myth: There is no need to seek medical care for headaches. Seek medical attention when headaches occur once a month or more, don't go away easily, are more painful than usual or prevent your child from participating in everyday activities. Parents should work with their child's pediatrician to manage and prevent recurring or severe headaches.

Always consult your child's pediatrician concerning your child's health.

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Howard Jacobs, M.D., is a headache specialist in neurology at Nationwide Children's Hospital.

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Treating the Problem

Headaches are often painful, especially for children. To help alleviate the discomfort, parents can:

  • Have their child lie down in a dark, quiet room with cool, moist compresses on their forehead or eyes.
  • Give acetaminophen or ibuprofen as needed. Be cautious of how much medication you are giving your child, and always check with your pediatrician if you are unsure of dosages.
  • Consider the cause of the headache and take steps to prevent headaches in the future. Make sure your child has a balanced diet with three meals a day, drinks plenty of liquids and gets enough sleep at night.