How can I relieve my child's headache?

Dr. Eric Hastriter is a Banner Children's pediatric headache neurologist at Cardon Children’s Medical Center. For more information, talk with your doctor or call Dr. Hastriter’s office at 480-412-7473.

Question: My child sometimes complains of headaches. What can I do to offer some relief?

Answer: Headaches generally occur when the brain’s pain center is activated. Children may experience similar headaches as adults, but they can be more challenging for youth because symptoms can vary significantly over the span of childhood.

Helping your child feel better first requires determining if anything triggered the headache. Triggers include not getting regular sleep, skipping meals, lack of exercise, inadequate water intake, caffeine use, and stress. Eye strain and poor posture from excessive exposure to electronics, such as computers, TVs, phones, tablets and video games, can contribute to head and neck pain. Certain medications, hormonal changes or environmental issues can also trigger headaches, as can illnesses like the common cold, sore throat, and urinary tract or ear infections.

Tension headaches are generally a response to emotional and physical stress, which children experience daily to some degree. The pain is mild to moderate on both sides, with a feeling of pressure or tightening that lasts 30 minutes to a week.

Migraine, a genetically inherited headache, is moderate to severe in intensity, causes throbbing, and can last from one to 72 hours. Migraine may be accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light or sound, and may worsen with movement.  Children often experience dizziness, fatigue, and difficulty concentrating during the event.

A child with a headache should rest in a cool, dark room, use a cold compress, and take deep, relaxing breaths. You can offer an over-the-counter pain reliever like acetaminophen or ibuprofen, but not more than two times a week, as this can also cause headache. Make sure your child is well hydrated, avoids caffeine, eats regular meals, exercises, sleeps regularly, and reduces stress to avoid future bouts.  If your child has frequent, unexplained headaches or the pain is significant, call your pediatrician for further evaluation.

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