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Treat Kids' Headaches Seriously

"My head hurts." Hearing those words from your child can be alarming, especially if your child has many headaches. But don't assume the worst.

You still should take headaches seriously, especially if the pain is intense and migraines run in your family. Migraines can cause throbbing pain, dizziness, nausea, and sensitivity to light and sound. Over-the-counter ibuprofen or acetaminophen can ease pain. And tell your health care provider about suspected migraines. Some kids may need preventive prescription drugs.

Tension is most common

Youngsters' most common head pain is a tension headache—a dull ache that feels like pressure around the head. Tiredness, stress, pressure at home or school, or conflict with parents or friends can trigger such headaches. They may keep coming until the underlying problem is resolved. Meanwhile, don't overuse medicine.

Here are ways to ease pain without drugs:

  • Apply an ice pack.

  • Have your child practice slow, deep breathing.

  • Have your child nap or rest in a dark room.

Call your health care provider promptly if your child's headache follows a head or face injury or accompanies a fever or stiff neck, vomiting, or problems with vision, balance, or coordination. If headaches increase, get worse, or don't go away with medicine, see your health care provider.

Head off the ache

A headache could mean a child's life is out of balance. Make sure the child gets:

  • Enough sleep. Children who struggle to fall asleep at night—or who get too much or too little sleep—are prone to headaches. Help your child go to sleep and wake up at the same time. Aim for eight to 10 hours of sleep.

  • Plenty of fluids. Dehydration can lead to headaches. Make sure kids drink four to eight glasses of water a day.

  • Three balanced meals. Skipping meals can cause headaches. Serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Processed foods with MSG or caffeine can trigger head pain.

  • Down time. Is a hectic schedule stressing out your child? Balance structured activities with quiet relaxation.

  • Worry-free days. Headaches can show something is bothering a child, from bullying at school to problems at home.