Mommy, fix it! When child headache strikes...

How can you help children dealing with pain in the head? Child headache can be a challenge. Part of the problem is that a child doesn't know all the 'adult' words to properly describe the symptoms, and she/he may not know her/his body well enough to recognize when things go wrong.

Personal note: I have no idea how long it took me to recognize my own headaches. It simply started as a vague realization that I didn't feel well. It was months and maybe years before the symptoms led me to a doctor who diagnosed me with migraines.

Let's take a look at some of the basics you need to know to understand child headache. If you suspect your child has migraine headaches, we have an article specifically about child migraine. But what else could your child have?

Child headache – don't panic!

First, you need to remember that most children get headaches sometimes. Most of the time that's all it is – a headache, such as a tension headache that an adult might get while fighting traffic or working on tax forms.

Chances are that this is not a life threatening condition, and that over the long term it won't have a significant impact on your child's life. On the rare occasion that a headache signals a serious health issue, a headache is actually a helpful signal that will lead you to treatment that will probably solve the problem.

Child headache – common problems

The most common child headache is the tension type headache (TTH). Tension headaches tend to cause general mild to moderate head pain, and sometimes muscle aches and fatigue.

Children generally get the same types of headache as adults. Visit our section on the various types of headache and how to recognize them.

TTHs usually pass on their own, but you can also try an ice pack on the pain, a walk, a warm shower or bath, or a short nap. If you feel your child tends to be tense, a few visits to the physical therapist may save him/her from a lifetime of related health issues.

If your child began having headaches around puberty, hormones may be involved. Often, this is when migraines begin, but other types of headache may start as well. Visit your doctor to deal with the problem early on.

If your child is feeling nauseas, chances are it's a migraine, or a headache with an infection. A fever is a clue that it's a headache along with an infection. Tylenol or ibuprofen are often prescribed for this type of headache. Once again, it's important to talk to your doctor.

When should I go to the doctor?

Generally, if the headaches change frequency, appear for the first time, or the symptoms change, it's time to take the child to a doctor. Also see a doctor if your child is having "the worst headache yet". Don't put it off! Although chances are it's not serious, if it is delaying treatment may harm your child, or worse. Always keep your doctor informed about your child's headaches. This should go hand in hand with keeping well informed yourself, by reading and checking reliable sources on the web.

A convenient way to learn about headaches and the latest research is by subscribing to our ezine, HeadWay! It comes out once a month and it's completely FREE.

Dr Seymour Diamond and Amy Diamond offer this list of warning signs that should prompt you to call your doctor right away (From Headache and your Child ):

Contact your doctor if your child:
* has a stiff neck or a fever in addition to the headache
* is short of breath, dizzy, has slurred speech, or has a numbness or tingling with the headache
* has blurry vision, double vision, or blind spots with the headache
* has three or more headaches per week
* has headaches that keep getting worse and won't go away
* needs to take a pain reliever every day for the headache
* needs more than the recommended doses of over-the-counter medications to relieve headache symptoms
* has headaches that are triggered by exertion, coughing bending, or strenuous physical excersize

Remember, although these may indicate a serious problem, they may not! Don't panic, but don't delay the doctor's visit.

Child headache - treatment options

Look into lifestyle changes as your first priority. Now is an excellent time to learn healthy habits that will last a lifetime, for more reasons than just child headache! Do some research and discuss the options with your doctor. Start with this article on home remedies, great for child headache as well as your headache!

Home remedies have an added benefit for child headache. It's helpful for your child to feel that they can do something to avoid or limit the pain. This may include using an ice pack, or learning how to relax. Talk to your doctor also about herbal or vitamin/mineral options.

If drugs are needed (and often they are taken along with a lifestyle change), your doctor will usually start with a low dose and monitor your child's health carefully (make sure they do!).

Child headache – working together

You and your child need to work together to deal with the headaches, especially if this is a long term issue. Working this through together can be a valuable introduction to life's challenges. Don't minimize or ignore the pain, but try to focus on the fact that it won't last, and that there are things that can be done about it in the mean time. Help your child live their life in spite of the pain, and not to use it as an excuse. Don't see your child's headaches as a disaster, but as a learning opportunity!

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