According to the National Headache Foundation, more than 10 million American children between the ages of 5 and 17 experience chronic headaches; this makes up 20 percent of all young people. What is a headache?
is pain or discomfort in the head or face area, and can occur once or frequently. There are several possible causes of headaches, and the way a child exhibits one may be due to several factors.
Recurrent headaches can cause other, nonphysical problems such as school and behavioral problems, and/or depression. Headaches may be classified as primary or secondary. Primary headaches include migraine, tension, and cluster headaches. Migraine headaches can start early in childhood, with the average onset for boys being age 7, and for girls age 10. Oftentimes with migraines, there is a family history of them, and some girls may experience them during their menstrual period. Some of the most common symptoms of a migraine are:
- Pain on one or both sides of the head
- Pain may be throbbing or pounding
- Sensitivity to light and/or sound
- Nausea and/or vomiting
Tension headaches are the most common type of headache, and are often caused by stress and mental or emotional conflict. The most common symptoms for this type of headache are:
- Slow onset of the headache
- Pain on both sides of the head
- Pain is dull or feels like a band around the head
- Pain may involve the back part of the head or neck
- Mild to moderate pain, but not severe
- Change in the child's sleep habits
Cluster headaches usually occur in children older than age 10. They typically occur in a series, which may last weeks or months, and may return every year or two. A couple of the most common symptoms of cluster headaches include:
- Severe pain on one side of the head, usually behind one eye
- Runny nose or congestion
- Swelling of the forehead
Secondary headaches are less common and are caused by brain structure problems which are the result of another health condition.
Some secondary headaches are more severe, suggesting a more serious cause, and parents should consult their child’s pediatrician if these symptoms occur with a headache. Some symptoms parents should look out for to spot these are:
- Vomiting without nausea
- Pain that is worsened by strain, such as a cough or sneeze
- Personality changes
- Changes in vision
If you have any questions about your child’s headaches, do not hesitate to contact your child’s pediatrician.