Headaches and migraines are more common in young people than most of us realize. This can be a problem even for very young children.
There are three major categories of headache common in children that can overlap or sometimes even trigger one another.
- Vascular headaches, which are caused by swelling of blood vessels and are often called migraine headaches
- Tension headaches, which are caused by muscle contraction
- Organic headaches, due to illness or infection
Some children get “classic” migraines, which are severe, cause prolonged pain and unusual vision symptoms but more frequently, children get a milder version of migraine called “common” migraine. Symptoms can include:
- Headaches that come and go, often with pain on one side of the head
- Throbbing or pounding pain
- Nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite or abdominal pain
- Dark circles under the eyes
- Relief of headache after sleep
- Vision changes, such as blurry vision or seeing bright lights
- Being bothered by lights (also called photophobia)
To treat a child’s headache effectively, it’s important that we understand everything we can about them. At the appointment, we will ask for details about the headaches, such as duration, activities or meals eaten right before a headache occurs and symptoms associated with the headache, like nausea or dizziness. We will also ask about family history of headaches. Keeping a diary about the headaches for us can be beneficial.
Migraine headaches are usually triggered by factors in the environment and in many cases, avoiding triggers can prevent headaches without the use of medication. Some common triggers are:
- Specific foods like hot dogs, pepperoni, chocolate, cheese or some artificial sweeteners
- Dehydration or exposure to heat
- Tiredness, lack of sleep or too much sleep
- Minor head trauma
- Illness or nasal allergies
- Menstruation in adolescent girls
- Sunlight or glare
- Flickering lights from fluorescent lights, TV or video games
Avoiding triggers and using pain relievers is usually recommended at first to control headaches. Depending on the frequency, severity and impact of headaches on a child’s life, daily medication may be used to prevent headaches. When we believe headaches are caused by stress, we may recommend other treatments like deep relaxation, biofeedback or counseling.
To learn more about symptoms of and treatment for headaches, visit the American Headache Society’s website at www.americanheadachesociety.com