Dealing with the condition of headache in children:
A headache is defined as a persistent pain anywhere in the head or neck. Headaches in children are more common than what is generally thought to be; luckily they are not usually serious. Headache in children needs to be given the same attention as we would give for grown-ups.
7 out of 10 school-going children could have had at least one episode of headache in a year and 1 out of 10 has migraine issues.
Headaches are often treated at home, if a child is otherwise well; it is not unreasonable for parents to treat it at home. However, if your child has any of the below symptoms or signs, then it is best to seek medical evaluation.
- Headache after an injury
- Disturbed sleep or insomnia because of headache
- Vomiting or visible physical disturbances due to headache
- Abnormal walking
- Some children present with abdominal pain, nausea (a feeling of sickness with inclination to vomit) and vomiting with or without headache
- Deterioration in academic/co-curricular performance
- Change in behavior
Medical evaluation by a doctor at the clinic will include taking a very detailed history about your child’s headache and general health, followed by an examination. Some children may need investigations such as vision evaluation or MRI scan of the brain.
Types of headache:
1. Headache can occur on its own, which is called “primary headache” or can be a symptom of different conditions, which is called “secondary headache”.
2. Primary headaches include migraine, tension-type headache, and daily persistent headache to name a few types.
3. Secondary headaches are due to infections like common cold, flu, etc.
4. It would be helpful to identify the cause of headache; it may be useful if you could maintain a diary of these events with any contributing factors as below which could be the triggers, which in turn helps to address the trigger and reduce the frequency or stop headaches altogether.
Common headache trigger factors:
- Skipping meals or eating very little
- Not drinking water adequately
- Spending too much time watching digital media (read about screen time)
- Not getting adequate sleep
- Playing out in hot sun without adequate hydration and protection from the heat
Headache impacts children in various ways like absenteeism from school, difficulty in participating in extra-curricular activities, which can affect their morale.
Medication and prevention:
1. Headache can be treated with over-the-counter medications from your local pharmacists such as Paracetamol and Ibuprofen.
2. If headache is recurrent it can be treated with prophylactic (intended to prevent) medications, lifestyle modifications, relaxation techniques and cognitive behavioral therapy.
3. In addition to the above, weight management is an important factor. Children who are overweight or obese can also have increased episodes of headache. Weight reduction will help reduce their headaches.
4. Parents need to keep all these facts and figures in mind and make sure that a condition like headaches does not hamper their child’s progress and growth.
Dr C P Ravi Kumar
Consultant Paediatric Neurologist
MRCPCH, CCT (Paediatrics)
Fellow in Paediatric Neurology
Fellow in Paediatric Epilepsy