Updated 28 January 2014

Headaches in children and adolescents

Children’s headaches rarely indicate a serious problem. Sometimes, children are merely imitating their parents when they say they have a headache!

Children’s headaches rarely indicate a serious problem. Sometimes, children are merely imitating their parents when they say they have a headache!

Emotional tension is the most common cause of headaches during childhood and adolescence. Stress may result if a child feels excessive pressure to participate in or excel at home or school activities. Tension headaches are common in teenagers and are generally caused by stress related to school performance and peer relationships.

Headaches in children and teenagers may also be the result of eyestrain, hunger, or viral infections such as colds and flu. Migraine headaches sometimes start during adolescence.

Home treatment and prevention
When your child has a headache, have him or her lie down in a darkened room with a cool, damp cloth on the forehead. It is best to avoid giving children painkillers as far as possible, but if non-drug methods don’t provide sufficient relief, try paracetamol in recommended doses. Note: don’t give aspirin to children and teenagers, as this increases the risk of Reye’s syndrome, a serious condition associated with viral infections.

Encourage your children to talk openly about their problems, to help you find any sources of stress that may be triggering their headaches. Tension headaches may sometimes be relieved or prevented by giving the child some quiet time out and a little extra attention.

Your child should have regular eye tests and take regular breaks from activities that commonly lead to eyestrain, such as studying, reading, watching TV and playing computer games.

Prevent hunger-induced headaches by ensuring your child eats a proper breakfast, lunch at school and perhaps an after-school snack.

Take your child to a doctor if your child:

  • Has a severe headache that is not relieved by relaxation or paracetamol.
  • Has a headache together with symptoms of encephalitis or meningitis, especially following a viral illness. In this case, call your doctor immediately.
  • Has headaches two or three times a week or more, or if you find you are using pain killers to control the headaches more than once a week.
  • Has headaches for which you can’t find a cause.
  • Is woken by headaches, or if headaches are worse in the early morning.

Read more:
Body mirrors the mind
Natural steps for headaches
Is a tendency to get headaches hereditary?


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Headache expert

Dr Elliot Shevel is a South African migraine surgery pioneer and the founder and medical director of The Headache Clinic in Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town, South Africa. The Headache Clinic is a multidisciplinary practice dedicated to the diagnosis and treatment of Primary Headaches and Migraines. Dr Shevel is also the main author of all scientific publications generated by his team. He recently won a high level science debate in which he was able to prove that the current migraine diagnosis and classification is not based on data. Tertiary Education - Dr Shevel holds both Dental and Medical degrees, and practises as a specialist Maxillo-facial and Oral Surgeon. Follow the Headache Clinic on Twitter@HeadacheClinic.

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