When should I take my child to the doctor for a headache?  - Articles and Videos, Health Topics, Neuroscience, Pediatrics

23 August 2021

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Roopal Karia, MD contributes to topics like Pediatric neurology, .

As a parent or carer, knowing how to best respond when a child or teenager is complaining of pain can be difficult. How do you know if it’s just a headache or something more serious and when should you take her to a doctor? Roopal Karia, MD, a neurologist at K. Hovnanian Children’s Hospital at Jersey Shore Medical Center, provided some expert advice.

“Headaches shouldn’t be taken lightly,” says Dr. Karia, who recommends that if a child complains of a headache, the best thing to do is to have the child examined by a doctor.

Types of headaches

Headaches can have a variety of causes, which may depend on age. Many headaches can be non-specific, but common types of headaches are:

  • Migraine. Migraines are headaches characterized by moderate to extreme throbbing pain that can last from a few hours to a few days. In addition, other symptoms are a high sensitivity to light, noise or smells. Younger children may complain of stomach pain. Vomiting can also occur.
  • Tension. A tension headache is common and involves mild or moderate pain on both sides of the head that can feel like pressure or a tight band around the head. Stressful situations can lead to tension headaches. Increased activity levels can make them worse.

“More worrying are headaches that are continuous, progressive in frequency or intensity, or are accompanied by symptoms such as visual disturbances and difficulty walking,” says Dr. Karia.

Prepare for your child’s visit to the doctor

Consider starting with your child’s pediatrician or family doctor. If necessary, they may refer your child to a neurologist, a doctor who specializes in treating the nervous system, made up of the brain, spinal cord, and nerves.

Dr. Karia recommends parents prepare for the appointment by keeping a headache diary. Here are some things to note in your child’s headache diary:

  • At what time of day do the headaches occur?
  • How often does your child have a headache?
  • How long does the headache last?
  • Does the headache disturb your child’s sleep?
  • Are there triggers you’ve noticed, such as certain foods or stress?

Keeping an eye on your child’s headache can help you and your doctor determine what type of headache your child is having, what type of tests should be done, and what treatments might help.

Headache treatment

“Headaches often depend on several factors,” says Dr. Karia. “The most important thing is to find out the causes and then decide on further management.”

Your doctor may prescribe medications or therapies, as well as home remedies such as sleeping in a cool, dark room, water, healthy snacks, and applying a cool, damp washcloth to your child’s forehead.

Remember to take children seriously when they complain of headaches. It’s probably not a cause for concern, but sometimes a headache is a symptom of something more serious that requires medical attention.

Next steps & resources:

The materials provided by Health Hub are for general information only and are not intended to be a substitute for advice from your doctor. Always consult your doctor for individual care.