Last Updated: September 1, 2020
Mild to serious headaches and migraine disorders affect up to 49% of the general population, and overall, 95% of us have experienced a headache in our lifetime. Women tend to suffer from head pains the most, while child headache affects up to 70% of children below 15 years.
Children and adolescents usually suffer from ‘hatband headache‘ such as tension headaches, hunger headaches, congestion headaches, medication overuse headaches, cluster headaches, etc, which may or may not affect their daily activities. Hatband headaches are characterized by tightness and pain in the forehead, back/side of the head, or all around the head.
Children also get migraines. Child migraines are characterized by intense, painful, and recurring throbbing inside the head. The pain could happen in only one part of the head or all of it. Migraines are usually accompanied by vomiting, nausea, and sensitivity to light and sound. Persistent migraines can interfere with the child’s ability to go to school and achieve timely development milestones.
Pediatric and neurological attention is required when a child suffers from these types of headaches:
- a headache that never goes away
- a headache that is sudden and sharp
- a headache that follows a bad head injury, coughing, exertion, sudden movement, etc
- a headache accompanied by other illnesses such as fever, numbness, stiff neck, seizures, double vision, speech troubles, etc
The right medication in addition to self-help remedies and a healthy lifestyle at home can help reduce the pain in migraines and completely stop mild headaches. Parents are also advised to keep a diary of headaches, whose data is useful when visiting a pediatrician or a neurologist.
Here are the common causes of child headache today
Whereas the environment and genetics are very critical in triggering headaches, here are other conditions that can make head pain even worse in children:
1. Your child drinks insufficient water
Water is perhaps one of the subjects that is discussed less when it comes to child health care and development. Yet, it is one of the most deliberate habits children need to adopt in order to fend off the numerous illnesses affecting them. The majority of children are not so keen on taking water and some actually dislike it! Often times they distaste water in preference for cola and other sugary drinks.
Water has also taken the back seat today because of the indoor lifestyle adopted by the 21st-century indoor generation. When children play less, they have less urge to drink water. On the other hand, children who play outdoors tend to drink sufficient water to replenish what they have lost through sweating and urination.
Lack of water in the body is the known lead cause of dehydrated headaches. It so happens that the tissues in the brain begin to tighten and shrink away from the skull, which ultimately triggers pain in the head.
Other signs your child is lacking water include dry mouth, dry skin, fatigue, bad breath, a craving for salt, vomiting, less urination, nausea, and abdominal pain. A combination of these and other symptoms should send signals that your child needs water urgently.
2. Too much screen time
The more hours children spend bingeing on smartphone screens the more they strain their eyes, neck, back, spine, and the head. The more years they spend on these screens the more they expose their bodies to short term and long term side effects beyond only temporary headaches and body pains.
Yet, 21st-century children spend all their lives using technology devices. About half of school-going children around the globe spend more than the recommended 2 hours bingeing on screens. Others actually spend more than 5 hours on the computer of smartphones.
These devices, including the smartphone, emit short-wavelength blue and violet light that can affect the eye and the head following extended use.
Besides the exposure to electromagnetic fields, slouching on smartphones and computers puts a lot of strain on the neck, back, and spine in what is known as tech neck. The pain is then transferred through various spine nerve channels to trigger headaches.
A French cross-sectional study about screen-time exposure and reporting of headaches in young adults showed,
High levels of screen time exposure are associated with migraine in young adults.
3. Insufficient sleep
Lack of sufficient and quality sleep is also known to trigger occasional or even constant headaches such as migraines and tension headaches. A normal child should sleep sufficiently in order to go through non-rapid eye movement (NREM) and rapid eye movement sleep (REM). These sleep stages are fundamental in fending off diseases and a sure way to achieve timely development milestones.
When a child sleeps well through the NREM stages of sleep, the blood supply to the muscles is assured, and body growth and repair take place. The benefits of the NREM and REM stages of sleep include improved memory, mood, and learning, and a lack of, is detrimental to physical and emotional well being, and of course, leads to headaches.
Research by Missouri State University in 2011 suggested that lack of quality sleep is linked to headaches, some of which can be quite painful.
Significantly, two thirds of all chronic pain patients report poor sleep quality and recent data support that sleep disturbance can cause or worsen acute and chronic pain.
To ensure quality and sufficient sleep for children, the following should happen:
The bedroom should be
- dark enough
- EMF free
- tech free
4. Irregular mealtimes & skipped meals
When children skip a meal, take a long time to eat, or eat food with insufficient nutritional value, they will more than likely develop complications related to nutritional deficits. A headache is one such complication. A headache of this kind happens when the blood sugar in the body dips beyond normal and it is accompanied by symptoms such as dizziness, stomach pain, and fatigue.
When children eat correctly the calories they have consumed are converted into energy which in turn becomes the fuel to run the body. In a situation where the stomach is empty for extended periods, the hunger hormone known as Ghrelin is released into the bloodstream to trigger appetite, and therefore hunger signals.
When a child fails to eat as demanded the Ghrelin hormone may
increase your blood pressure and tighten blood vessels in your body, triggering a headache.
5. Child headache due to illness & injury
Often times, the existence of other illnesses in the body can predispose a child to headaches. Some of the causative illnesses are listed here:
- muscle tension in the limbs
- vision impairment when a child strains to read
- colds and flu
- ear and sinus infections
- teething pain
- abdominal pains
Though uncommon, head pains can also happen due to meningitis and encephalitis.
Besides the conditions listed above, headaches can be triggered by an injury to the head. This can happen when a child falls hard on the head or the head gets hit hard by an object thrown at it. You should be particularly concerned when the head injury happens instantly following the head trauma, and the gets worse in the course of the day.
6. Medication overuse
It is likely that child headache may occur following extended use of medicine to treat headaches and other medical conditions. Medication overuse (MOH) affects up to 2% of the global population, and related pain may occur even during withdrawal.
When a child or teen-ager with headaches takes pain medicine too often, the headaches may become more frequent and more painful.
Here is the scenario: Usually, we give medicine to treat headaches in children but instead of reducing the pain we make matters worse for them. Still, we are tempted to give them even more pain killers to handle the ‘rebound headache‘.
Pain relievers taken to calm arthritis and other illnesses in the elderly, are also known to worsen headaches in those who previously did not have MOH issues.
7. Social-emotional challenges
Social-emotional challenges are not limited to adults only. Children will experience similar challenges due to bullying and other social-emotional challenges. When your child is unwilling to go to school on a Monday morning, he is probably experiencing anxiety issues over the possibility of meeting his bully. Most often, your child will complain of stomach pain, headache, and other emotional strains.
Besides bullying, other social-emotional problems listed below can trigger headaches:
- anxiety over parent divorce
- stress over the death of a family member or friend
- anxiety over social rejection
- anxiety over change of school
8. Child headache & genetic predisposition
Genes are passed down from generation to generation and form the foundation upon which how we look, talk, and sadly, the diseases we are predisposed to. Genes play a very crucial role in predisposition to migraines.
Yes, migraine headache has a genetic predisposition. It does often run in families and it is more common in females who are past puberty. Studies have confirmed that the risk of migraine in first-degree relatives is increased 1.5- to 4-fold.
When a family has a history of persistent headaches through generations, chances are very high that the children too will have to stick in and deal with headaches as they grow up.
Self-help remedies to treat child headache at home
The following tips and tricks should help relieve the headache in your child:
- lie them down in a quiet, dark room
- put a cool, moist cloth across their forehead or eyes
- get them to breathe easily and deeply
- encourage them to sleep, as this speeds recovery
- encourage them to eat or drink something (but not drinks containing caffeine)