Headaches in children
Tamara Zach, MD, is a pediatric neurologist on staff at Banner Thunderbird Medical Center in Glendale, Ariz.. Her office can be reached at (480) 412-7400
Question: I once heard that headaches in children may be a symptom of something more serious. Is it common for children to get headaches, or should I consider headaches cause for concern?
Answer: Headaches are actually quite common in children. In fact, 40 to 50p ercent of kids will complain of headaches by age seven, and more than 70 percent of adolescents will have headaches. While it’s true that headaches are sometimes symptomatic of something more serious, parents can rest assured that, as miserable as they can be, a headache is often just a headache.
We all know how nasty headaches can be, and it’s no different for children. Like adults, children are susceptible to tension headaches and migraines as early as four years of age – especially when there is a family history of headaches. Common triggers can include stress, certain foods and drinks (i.e. aged cheese, citrus fruits, MSG, and caffeinated drinks), bright lights, and, of course, a hit or bump to the head. One of the main triggers of headaches in adolescents is sleep deprivation. Making sure your children have proper sleep, diet, exercise, and hydration can do wonders in preventing these headaches.
On the other hand, there are times when headaches signify something more serious is going on. Parents are advised to monitor the frequency and types of headaches their children have in order to recognize potential problems. Red flags can include headaches that: abruptly change in frequency or intensity; occur in the morning; are accompanied by vomiting; worsen when lying down; wake a child from sleeping; and/or, consistently occur on one side of the head. These all may be signs that medical attention is necessary. Additionally, any neurological deficits that accompany a headache should be brought to a doctor’s attention.
The best way to get a handle on recurring or chronic headaches is to jump on them early by bringing them to the attention of your child’s physician. Children do not need to suffer. There are many options available today to effectively treat and prevent headaches. If you have any questions or concerns, speak with your child’s healthcare provider.