1. Does this describe your child's symptoms?
- Pain or discomfort of the scalp or forehead areas
- The face and ears are excluded
- Viral illnesses: Most headaches are part of a viral illness, especially with colds. These usually last a few days.
- Muscle tension headaches: Most common type of recurrent headaches. Muscle tension headaches give a feeling of tightness around the head. The neck muscles also become sore and tight. Tension headaches can be caused by staying in one position for a long time, such as with reading or using a computer. Other children get tension headaches as a reaction to stress, such as pressure for better grades or family disagreements.
- Migraine headaches: Recurrent severe, incapacitating headaches
- Other common causes: Hunger, exertion, sunlight, coughing
- Frontal sinusitis: can cause a frontal headache just above the eyebrow. Rare before 10 years old because frontal sinus not developed. Other sinuses cause face pain, not headache.
- Serious causes: Meningitis or encephalitis. Symptoms include a headache, stiff neck, vomiting, fever and confusion.
2. When to Call Your Doctor
Call 911 Now (your child may need an ambulance) If
- Difficult to awaken or passed out
- Confused thinking/talking or slurred speech
- Blurred or double vision
- Weakness of arm or leg or unsteady walking
Call Your Doctor Now (night or day) If
- Your child looks or acts very sick
- Stiff neck (can't touch chin to chest)
- Severe headache
- You think your child needs to be seen urgently
Call Your Doctor During Weekday Office Hours If
- You have other questions or concerns
- Headache without other symptoms present over 24 hours
- Sore throat present over 48 hours
- Any headache present over 3 days
- Headaches are a recurrent chronic problem
Call Your Doctor Within 24 Hours (between 9 am and 4 pm) If
- You think your child needs to be seen, but not urgently
- Sinus pain (not just congestion) of forehead
Parent Care at Home If
- Mild headache and you don't think your child needs to be seen
3. HOME CARE ADVICE FOR HEADACHES
- Headaches are very common with viral illness, especially with colds. They usually resolve in 2 or 3 days.
- Unexplained headaches can occur in children, just as they do in adults. They usually pass in a few hours or last up to a day.
- Most headaches (including muscle tension headaches) are helped by the following measures.
- Reassurance: This headache is similar to previous migraine headaches that your child has experienced.
- Pain Medicine: Give acetaminophen (e.g., Tylenol) or ibuprofen for pain relief (see Dosage table). Headaches due to fever are also helped by fever reduction.
- Migraine Medication:
- If your child's doctor has prescribed a specific medication for migraine, give it as directed as soon as the migraine starts.
- If not, ibuprofen is the best over-the-counter drug for migraine. Give ibuprofen now and repeat in 6 hours if needed (See Dosage Table).
- Food: Give fruit juice or food if your child is hungry or hasn't eaten in more than 4 hours (Reason: Skipping a meal can cause a headache in many children).
- Sleep: Have your child lie down in a dark, quiet place and try to fall asleep. People with migraine often awaken from sleep with their migraine gone.
- Rest: Lie down in a quiet place and relax until feeling better.
- Prevention of Migraine Attacks:
- Stay well hydrated.
- Don't skip meals.
- Get adequate sleep each night.
- Local Cold: Apply a cold wet washcloth or cold pack to the forehead for 20 minutes.
- Call Your Doctor If:
- Headache becomes much worse than usual
- Headache lasts longer than usual
- Stretching: Stretch and massage any tight neck muscles.
- Call Your Doctor If:
- Headache becomes severe
- Vomiting occurs
- Isolated headache lasts over 24 hours
- Headache lasts over 3 days
- Your child becomes worse
- Extra Advice - Muscle Tension Headache Prevention:
- If something is bothering your child, help him talk about it and get it off his mind.
- Teach your child to take breaks from activities that require sustained concentration. Encourage your child to do relaxation exercises during the breaks.
- Teach your child the importance of getting adequate sleep.
- If over-achievement causes headaches, help your child find more balance.
- Caution: Your child should have a complete medical checkup before you conclude that recurrent headaches are due to worrying too much or stress.
- And remember, contact your doctor if your child develops any of the 'Call Your Doctor' symptoms.
- This information is not intended be a substitute for professional medical advice. It is provided for educational purposes only. You assume full responsibility for how you choose to use this information.
- Author and Senior Reviewer: Barton D. Schmitt, M.D.
- Last Reviewed: 9/15/2011 12:00:00 AM
- Last Revised: 8/1/2011 3:04:58 PM
- Content Set: Pediatric HouseCalls Symptom Checker
- Copyright 1994-2012 Barton D. Schmitt, M.D.
Swedish Kids Symptom Checker is designed especially for these times. The interactive iPhone application can help you make appropriate decisions on what level of care, if any, is needed and how to provide symptom relief for minor illnesses and injuries you can manage on your own.