When should you consult a pediatrician about a child's headache?

SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital, 4/20/2023 10:57 AM

Even children as young as 4 years old are susceptible to headaches. Only a small number of headaches are caused by serious causes. These headaches are often caused by hormonal changes, certain food, stress, anxiety or sleep deprivation. Most headaches in children are migraines or tension headaches. These headaches are usually caused by blood vessels in the brain and pain centers.

Migraine Basics

Asking your child about the symptoms will help you determine the type and severity. It is not uncommon for migraines to cause other symptoms, in addition to the headache. These are expected symptoms, and they do not necessarily indicate a problem. These symptoms include:

  • Light and/or Sound Sensitivity
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability

During a headache, the brain releases chemicals which inflame the nerves and blood vessels. This can cause lights or sounds to be more painful than usual. If your child has regular migraines, speak to their pediatrician for treatment.

Following these recommendations may help prevent or relieve migraines (or headaches in general).

  1. Avoid excessive caffeine and drink plenty of water.
  2. Sleep enough each night.
  3. Breakfast is especially important.
  4. Reduce stress and anxiety by being mindful.
  5. Rest in a quiet, dark place.

When should you seek help?

If your child’s headaches are more frequent than a few days per month, interfere in daily activities, or do not improve consistently with over-the counter medications, contact your pediatrician. If needed, your child may be referred to a pediatric neurologist at SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Hospital for further assessment and treatments.

If your child’s headaches suddenly worsen or increase in frequency, are associated with weakness in one part of the limb or have other symptoms that concern you, seek immediate treatment. Watch out for these red flags:

  • Headaches that change with time
  • Increased frequency or symptoms.
  • Visual changes or loss in vision.
  • Weakness or loss of sensation.
  • A headache can be present when you wake up, with or without nausea.
  • Confusion or difficulty in thinking.