Headaches in Children: Recognizing Red Flags and When to Take Action
Both children and adults may experience occasional headaches, which are characterized by moderate pain lasting a few hours. Most of the time, these headaches are not a cause for concern and are caused by less severe conditions, such as a mild head injury, insufficient sleep or food intake, and high levels of stress or anxiety. They can also be triggered by loud noises, bright lights excessive activity in the surroundings, or can seemingly appear without any specific cause. Migraine headaches can also occur in childhood, but if the triggers are identified and avoided, they usually do not cause significant problems.
However, for some individuals, headaches can become severe, debilitating or chronic. It is worth noting that one in six adolescents experience migraines, with about 2% of teenagers have headaches on a daily or every other day basis. Although headaches can sometimes indicate a serious problem, such as a brain tumor, this is the case only about 1% of the time. In the remaining 99% of cases, headaches are typically associated with a treatable infection or primary headache disorder, meaning that there is no underlying problem.
It is advisable to seek medical assistance if your child experiences a sudden, severe headache that is new to them, if they have had a concussion, if the headache wakes them up, worsens or occur more frequently, if it leads to changes in their personality, if it is accompanied by fever and neck pain or stiffness, or if they experience persistent vomiting or visual changes.
There are several measures parents can take to assist their children with this condition. It is important to note that pain patterns can vary depending on the child’s routine and environment. Encouraging habits such as maintaining consistent schedules for sleeping, eating, exercising and schoolwork can help alleviate symptoms. Additionally, ensuring that children with migraines receive sufficient uninterrupted sleep is crucial, as many of them tend to feel significantly better after rest. Ideally, they should aim for 8 to 12 hours of sleep per night, depending on their age.
It is also important to incorporate relaxation exercises and stress reduction techniques. In this regard, it is necessary to identify factors that may cause stress or distress in the child's life, such as struggles with homework or strained relationships with peers. Encouaging the child to find new hobbies or interests such as crafts, reading or cooking, and promoting social interactions with friends and family for recreational activities and entertainment, can help reduce the frequency of pain.
Sports practice is also essential. It is recommended that children engage in at least 20 minutes of exercise that induces sweating, three to four days a week. The relationship between sports activity and headaches aligns with the findings of a study conducted by various health departments at universities in Belgium and the Netherlands. This study demonstrates the beneficial effects of aerobic exercise in reducing the frequency of migraines, making it a prophylactic treatment for patients with this condition.
You can keep a diary to record the characteristics of your child's pain, noting when it begins and how long it lasts. If the headaches significantly disrupt your child's regular activities, it is advisable to consult a doctor. The recommended course of treatment may involve lifestyle modifications, acute or preventive medications, cognitive-behavioral therapy, as well as procedural and intravenous treatments.