When to be concerned about headaches in children

by Elizabeth Leleszi, M.D., pediatric neurologist, medical director of the Beaumont Children’s Hospital Headache Center

It’s one of the statements a parent never wants to hear from a child: “Mom, I have a headache.” What should you do when a headache strikes?

headache_center_lelesziHeadaches are a common source of complaints for children. At the Beaumont Children’s Hospital Headache Center, parents and caregivers tells us that many questions race through their minds when their child complains of a headache. They wonder how best to treat them and worry that something could seriously be wrong.

At what point does my child’s headache warrant a trip to the doctor? Could it be a brain tumor? How much is too much pain medication? And am I using it too frequently? What can I do to treat my child’s headache at home?

You should consider seeing your child’s doctor if the headache:

  • starts after your child hits his or her head
  • awakens your child from sleep at night
  • is accompanied by a high fever (greater than 100.4 F) and other signs of infection, such as a stiff neck, vomiting, difficulty with walking, changes in vision or confusion

Also consider contacting a doctor if your child is:

  • under 3 years of age
  • has other complex medical problems (bleeding problems, immune problems, heart problems, etc.)
  • has a headache greater than one time a month

In general, home treatments for headaches are appropriate when the headache does not have the above accompanying features.

Actions you can take at home may include allowing the child to rest in a quiet, dark environment and encouraging sleep. Over the counter medications such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen may be helpful at doses appropriate for your child’s age and weight. However, these medications should not be used for headaches more than days per week. If taken more frequently than that, your child may develop new headaches from taking too much pain medication. Some children may benefit from daily therapy to prevent headaches in the first place.

The Beaumont Children’s Hospital Headache Center treats children with recurrent headaches. Using the most advanced diagnostic criteria and a multi-disciplinary approach, the center aims to decrease the frequency and severity of headaches in children. To make an appointment, call 248-551-7370.

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