What Causes Headaches in Children

Why do Children get Headaches?

Many people are surprised that children are subject to headaches just like adults and that they get them for the same reasons. This includes stress and anxiety. Other things that can cause headaches in children are illness, head trauma, allergens or dehydration . Even medication to help headaches can lead to headaches. Though most headaches in children do not indicate a serious condition, they may present differently in children than they do in adults. For example, a migraine headache does not last nearly as long in a child as it does in an adult, though some children have headaches that last for days.

What Causes Headaches in Children

Even changes in the weather can cause children and adults to develop headaches. The triggers can be changes in humidity, temperature, a storm or an unusually arid or dusty environment. Evolutionary biologists believe these types of headaches came about to warn prehistoric people to seek shelter when inclement weather was coming.

One problem when it comes to children’s headaches is that they may be so young that they can’t articulate their suffering. A child may hold their head or become agitated, restless or want to do nothing but sleep. Parents need to be vigilant for these signs of discomfort, especially after a head injury. Even a child who’s experienced what looked like a mild bump on the head should be monitored for a day or two.

Other signs to watch for are:

  • A headache whose pain wakes the boy or girl from sleep
  • Changes in personality
  • Vomiting
  • Visual disturbances
  • Fever and a stiff, painful neck

Children are subject to several types of headaches:


This is a throbbing headache that gets worse with physical activity. The pain can be severe. The boy or girl becomes very sensitive to lights and suffers nausea and vomiting. Some children even complain of stomach ache with these headaches.

Tension Headache

This headache feels like a band squeezing the head or neck. It does not pulse like a migraine headache and doesn’t get worse with physical activity. The pain can be mild to middling. The little one does not suffer nausea or vomiting from these headaches, but may want to simply curl up and go to sleep to escape them.

Cluster Headaches

These headaches usually last less than three hours, but they come in groups. Children can have headaches every other day or a headache several times in a day. Cluster headaches are characterized by a stabbing pain behind the eyes.

Chronic Daily Headache

Children are also subject to these types of headaches. Doctors define them as headaches that happen at least 15 days out of the month.

Most children’s headaches respond to over-the-counter pain medicines, but they should not be given aspirin if they are recovering from the flu or chicken pox. This can lead to a dangerous condition called Reyes’ syndrome.

Parents should take children to a doctor if their headache is not responding. Usually, all that’s needed is a medical history and a physical exam, though doctors may want to run imaging tests to make sure that there is no serious underlying cause for the headache.

Besides medication, children can be taught relaxation techniques and use biofeedback to help them cope with or ease the pain of their headaches.