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Headaches in Children: Understanding the Signs and Symptoms

By: Victoria Bernhardt, APRN


Headaches are a common complaint for both children and adolescents and can be a significant source of worry for their parents and caregivers. It is helpful to have a basic understanding of the signs and symptoms of the more common headaches and migraines. It is also important to recognize the signs and symptoms that could indicate a rare or serious problem.


Headaches can either be primary or secondary. Primary headaches are more common than secondary headaches. Two common examples of primary headaches are migraine headaches and tension headaches. A migraine is the most common type of headache that occurs in children. Typical symptoms of migraines include pain in the frontal region of the head (on one or both sides), throbbing or pulsing pain, sensitivity to light, sensitivity to sounds, sensitivity to smells, nausea, and vomiting. Some children have an “aura” prior to a migraine. This is a warning sign that the headache is about to occur. Symptoms of the aura can be flashes of light, seeing zig zags, feelings of numbness or tingling, or changes in speech. Tension headaches can cause pain in both sides of the head and can feel like pressure, squeezing, or tightening. Patients often report that it feels as though a band is around their head.


Secondary headaches are more rare and occur due to another condition. It is important that parents and caregivers pay attention to the following headache warning signs that could potentially indicate a more serious condition. These signs include: a progressing frequency and/or severity of headaches, night or morning awakenings due to headaches, double vision, pain in the back of the head, and/or vomiting without feeling nauseous first.


Symptoms of primary headaches and secondary headaches can often overlap, so the best course of action to take if your child develops symptoms of a headache is to contact your pediatrician. It is important to remember that most headaches that occur in children are not due to a serious condition and are often triggered by things such as not drinking enough water, poor eating habits, stress, and poor sleep habits.


Whatever the cause, headaches can significantly impact a child’s quality of life. A visit with the pediatrician can ensure that your child is evaluated, treated, or referred to a specialist if needed. To schedule an appointment to address any health concerns, give us a call at 407-566-9700.


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August 2020