When to Worry About Your Child’s Headache

By Wendy Bacigalupi-Bednarz, Editorial Contributor

Few things can ruin your day like a headache. It’s bad enough when a headache sidelines you for hours, but when it’s your child who’s hurting, that adds another layer of stress to the situation.

“Headaches are common in kids. Most of the time, they’re nothing to worry about,” says Dr. Vikram Prakash, a pediatric neurologist at Orlando Health Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children. “Childhood headaches are often triggered by tension, minor illnesses, sleep or dietary issues, dehydration or even a minor bump to the head.”

But, there are some headaches (and symptoms) that can signal more serious problems, says Dr. Prakash. Red flags include new onset headaches that rapidly worsen and increase in frequency and severity, and what children report as “the worst headache of my life.” Headaches like these need immediate medical attention.

Contact your doctor if your child’s headache:

  • Comes with a fever, neck pain or stiffness.
  • Is accompanied by persistent or frequent vomiting.
  • Follows an injury such as a blow to the head.
  • Is severe and does not improve with acetaminophen or ibuprofen.
  • Follows exercise, straining, coughing or bowel movement.
  • Is accompanied by difficulty walking, talking and performing normal activities.
  • Affects your child’s sleep patterns, such as making her sleepier than usual or interrupting his sleep.

Children can also have migraines. While migraines are typically not serious, they can be debilitating and interfere with your child’s daily functions. Migraines are associated commonly with light and sound sensitivity, and sometimes cause vomiting.

Children do recover from migraines and return to their normal selves after sleeping or taking over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen, says Dr. Prakash. However, if a child’s migraine symptoms require frequent over-the counter medicines, it’s time to consult your doctor about a treatment plan.

Learn more about treatments for childhood headaches and other neurological conditions at

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