Mom, my head hurts: 5 facts on headaches in kids

It’s midway through the day when you hear what’s becoming a common phrase, “Mom, my head hurts.” Are these headaches something serious, or just a normal part of life?

While we may think of headaches as an “adult” thing, they aren’t uncommon in kids. In fact, as many as one in five children and teens experience headaches regularly.

Let’s take a look at five facts on headaches in kids.

  1. Headaches can have many causes. Kids often get them when they’re sick, particularly when they have an infection affecting the throat or ears.

Certain medications can also make a child more prone to headaches. Many headaches will ease on their own, but an age-appropriate dose of an over-the-counter pain reliever or anti-inflammatory can also help.

  1. Tension headaches are the most common. You wouldn’t think that kids would experience headaches caused by tension, but they do. Stress or any type of conflict can trigger tension headaches in kids.

If your child has tension headaches, he or she may experience a gradual onset of dull pain that’s generally on both sides of the head. Pain is usually mild or moderate rather than severe, but it may interfere with sleep.

  1. Cluster headaches are more common in older kids. This type of headache, which generally occurs in “clusters” over weeks or even months, typically starts happening in kids older than age 10. Cluster headaches are more common in males.

If your child has cluster headaches, he or she will likely have severe pain limited to one side of the head that often impacts the eye. The eye on that side of the head may have a droopy eyelid, a small pupil, or a red or swollen eyelid.

Cluster headaches are also often accompanied by either a runny nose or a congested nose, along with facial swelling.

  1. Migraines also occur in kids. About 5 percent of children overall — and up to 20 percent of teens — experience migraines. The age a child begins experiencing migraines often varies by gender, with boys being impacted earlier.

With most kids who have migraines, there is a family history of the condition. If a child has one parent with migraines, he or she has a 50 percent chance of developing migraines, while a child with two migraine-prone parents has up to a 75 percent chance.

Migraines have a variety of triggers, including excessive fatigue, weather changes, or even certain lighting, and cause intense pain on one or both sides of the head. Migraines also often cause sensitivity to light or sound, along with gastrointestinal issues like nausea or abdominal discomfort.

  1. Most headaches aren’t serious. In general, most childhood headaches are normal.

But if your child experiences a headache that continually worsens, a headache that is accompanied by vomiting without nausea, a sudden onset of severe pain, a headache that is accompanied by personality changes or changes in vision, or a headache that is accompanied by weakness in the extremities or difficulties with balance, it’s important to seek prompt medical attention.

Your child’s pediatrician can help diagnose the source of your child’s headaches and offer suggestions for easing the pain. Need a pediatrician? Find one here.