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HealthInfo Canterbury

Headaches & migraines in children

A headache is pain in the head or neck area.

Headaches and migraines are quite common in tamariki (children) and usually don't have a serious cause. But they can be distressing for tamariki and worrying for their parents.

Symptoms of headaches and migraines in children

Tension type headaches are the most common type of headache. They can feel like a dull heavy ache or a pressing tightness affecting both sides of the head. The pain is sometimes described as “band-like”. Tension type headaches can last from a few hours to days.

Migraines can feel more severe than headaches. With a migraine the pain is usually on one side and throbbing. Migraines can be made worse by movement and can make your child feel sick or vomit, be sensitive to light and feel weak.

Some tamariki have a warning sign (aura) before a migraine. The commonest type of aura is a change in vision such as seeing lights or lines.

It's important to remember that it may be difficult for tamariki to describe their symptoms.

Causes of headaches and migraines in children

Headaches can be caused by many things, including not getting enough sleep, being stressed or anxious, viral infections such as a cold, sinusitis, dehydration and eye problems such as straining to read.

Very occasionally they can be part of a more serious illness such as bleeding inside the skull or a tumour.

Preventing headaches and migraines in children

If you know what triggers your child's headaches, you can try to avoid them.

Helping your child with headache and migraines

You can care for most headaches at home or school.

Headaches usually respond well to simple pain relief such as paracetamol and ibuprofen. Use as directed on the packaging. If you aren't sure what the correct dose is, check with your GP or pharmacist.

Other simple things that can help include:

Older tamariki children may find relaxation exercises and meditation helpful.

Getting help with headaches and migraines

If you're worried about your child's headaches or migraines, make an appointment with your GP.

It's important to get urgent medical help if your tamaiti child has any of the following symptoms:

Read the links below to learn about different types of headache and headache triggers. The links also tell you how to describe headaches and how to help your tamaiti if they have a headache or a migraine.

If your tamaiti has frequent headaches, you can keep a headache log. Record the type, duration, frequency and if they needed pain relief.

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Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed November 2021.

Page reference: 55535

Review key: HIHMK-35684