Headaches and migraines in children are very common. According to the American Headache Society, a headache is defined as a throbbing pain on one or both sides of the head. A migraine is a more severe type of headache that can last from a few minutes to a few days.

Common symptoms of a headache may include:

  • Feeling as though someone is pressing or squeezing on the front, back or sides of the head
  • Pain that can be described as dull, aching or constant

Common symptoms of a migraine may include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Changes in vision
  • Dizziness
  • Cold hands
  • Paleness
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Pain that may be:
    • Severe
    • Throbbing
    • On one or both sides of the head
    • Worsened with physical activity
    • Relieved by sleep

In some cases, headaches or migraines may be caused by an infection, high levels of stress and anxiety or a minor head injury. But most headaches and migraines can be treated or prevented with some simple changes in your child’s daily activities.

Before scheduling an appointment with a specialist, we recommend the following lifestyle adjustments:

  • Make sure your child is getting adequate sleep. The National Sleep Foundation recommends the following targets:
    • 1 to 2 years old: 11 to 14 hours of sleep each day, including naps
    • 3 to 5 years old: 10 to 13 hours of sleep each day, including naps
    • 6 to 13 years old: nine to 11 hours of sleep each night without naps
    • 14 to 18 years old: eight to 10 hours of sleep each night without naps
  • Ensure your child is drinking plenty of water each day. The goal is to consume the equivalent of ounces to weight in pounds, with a maximum of 100 ounces each day.
  • Make sure your child exercises a minimum of 30 minutes a day, three to five times each week.
  • Help modify your child’s stress and anxiety. Consider using techniques like meditation and deep breathing to help reduce stress and anxiety. If needed, consider consulting a psychologist or psychiatrist to help bring your child’s stress or anxiety down to a more manageable level.
  • Be mindful of your child’s diet:
    • Do not let him skip breakfast.
    • Make sure he eats three balanced, healthy meals daily.
    • Minimize or eliminate caffeine consumption.

Treating a headache or migraine in kids

A child’s headache can usually be treated at home by making sure he gets a lot of rest, decreasing noise around him, giving him plenty of fluids, feeding him a healthy meal or trying an over-the-counter pain reliever, such as Tylenol, Advil or Motrin. Make sure to follow the instructions on the box for your child, based on his weight and age.

If your child’s migraine doesn’t go away trying the treatments above, and you schedule an appointment with his pediatrician, your child’s doctor may prescribe medication, such as a pain reliever to help treat migraines or a medicine for nausea.