Headaches are more common in the pediatric population than people realize. In honor of Headache and Migraine Awareness Month, pediatric neurologist and medical director of the headache program at Nicklaus Children's Hospital, Dr. Wilson Heredia Nunez, provides information about symptoms, prevention, and treatment of headaches and migraines within children.
Although headaches in children can start at any age, they are most likely to emerge around ages 6 and 7 or during the teen years. Doctors have seen patients as young as 2 years of age with headaches. Headaches are also more common in boys.
The two most common headache conditions in children are migraines and tension headaches. Both are bothersome and can affect daily life. Migraines have genetic predispositions and can come in various forms. They can vary from severe to moderate pain. Frequency also varies; some children can get them daily, others just a few times a year.
When Should You Consult a Doctor?
If your child has frequent headaches that interfere with daily life, consult your child's pediatrician. They can help decrease the frequency of headaches and maximize function. Neurologic symptoms, such as blurry vision or balance issues, should also be addressed with your child's doctor immediately.
Treatment generally consists of a mixed approach. The first line of treatment is headache prevention or reduction through lifestyle changes such as staying hydrated, avoiding caffeine, getting good sleep, eating well and exercising. Stress can also be a trigger.
An essential part of the treatment process is developing a good plan for what to do when children get headaches. For frequent headaches, doctors can prescribe supplements and/or prevention medication. There is also strong evidence that suggests cognitive behavioral therapy can help reduce the symptoms of headaches, so we also encourage that as part of our treatment plan.
The overall goal is to reduce headaches to less than three per month and alleviate interference with daily functions to help your child live a healthier and happier life. While there is no cure for migraines, some children may experience fewer migraines over time with management techniques.