Monday, 23 October 2017 06:08

Headaches in Children Featured

Headaches in Children

Headaches are one of the more common reasons children visit their GP. This is not surprising given that headaches increase in frequency from affecting around 5% of preschool children and rising to around 70% of adolescents. Understandably when their child is affected by a more severe or prolonged headache, parents fear the worst diagnosis that they can imagine: this usually being a brain tumour or meningitis.

By far and away the most common causes of a childhood headache are tension headaches and migraines, which represent about 80% of headaches. The remainder are related to secondary causes such as viral illness, sinusitis, and ear infections. Although a refractive error of vision can cause headaches, they are not often to blame. Rare causes include meningitis, head injury and brain tumours.

The most valuable information you can give to you doctor to assist with diagnosis is a good history of the headache. The timing, the frequency, the duration and the location of the headache are essential information to know. In fact for the two common headache types, tension headache and migraine, there is no other way to make the diagnosis and with a good history the doctor should be able to do so without resorting to any investigations at all. Stresses at school and home are important to assess and the parent’s own experience of headache also provides useful information. With a thorough history and targeted examination, usually a parent’s worst fears can be put to rest and a management plan put in place. Rarely will the doctor advise further investigations.

Not all children with headaches need to be seen by the doctor especially when they are mild and infrequent, the child is well in between and the symptoms are in keeping with the parents own headache experience. However if your child demonstrates the following features a medical review is strongly advised:

  • An increase in the severity, frequency or duration of the headache
  • A headache which is different from previous headaches
  • A very severe headache
  • Headaches that wake a child up
  • Headaches associated with a fever or stiff neck
  • Any headache associated with a head injury
  • Any early morning nausea or vomiting
  • Any personality or behavioural changes
  • Any falling away of school performance
  • Any concerns about growth or developmental milestones that lag behind other children.

For more information about headaches in children and adults, a useful online resource can be found here:

Many children who develop tension headache or migraine will continue to experience these throughout their life. A full assessment by their doctor can allow them to develop lifestyle and self-management strategies for the future as well as help allay the anxiety about the cause of their problem.