Just as with any other medical visit, good clinicians ask plenty of questions when confronted with a child who has a headache.
Older kids, able to express themselves, can give some account of the degree of discomfort, the severity of a headache, how long it lasts, and how frequently they have it. Parents or other caregivers can provide answers for younger kids who can’t express the symptoms of their headaches.
Asking about sleeping patterns, social stressors, eating and drinking habits are an important part of getting to the bottom of why children and adolescents have a headache.
How children show they have a headache
“Mom, my head hurts.” “Dad, I have a headache.” These are some of the many ways that children indicate that they have a headache.
Many of these children will quickly forget about their headaches and resume playing, but may complain again in the course of the day, the next day or a week later. Most parents or caregivers listen to such a complaint, ask routine questions, and try to offer emotional comfort or search in the medicine drawer for pain relief medicines.
From the corner of their eye, most parents watch the child who complained of a headache. They would be looking for signs demonstrating pain: unusual quietness, not participating in the play, refusing to eat, crying, and hands clutching the head. If they don’t have a thermometer to check for fever, parents or caregivers often put the back of their hands on the child’s forehead or cheek. A headache that occurs during fever usually goes away when the fever does.
Obtaining information is one of the most vital functions of a clinician in finding out more about a headache. Measuring blood pressure, checking eye reflexes and focus, looking into the depth of the eyeballs and testing relevant nerves and muscles may give the clinician a clue to the probable cause of a headache. Above all, obtaining detailed information on the character of a headache is the most useful part of the examination.
Headache sufferers may have to undergo a further test. Imaging of the brain—MRI, magnetic resonance imaging—will look for structural abnormalities, such as tumors or aneurysm of blood vessels in the brain.
Treatment for headaches
Parents can alleviate many headaches in their children by giving analgesics, or pain relievers, such as Tylenol, paracetamol, or ibuprofen.
Children with constant, recurrent or severe headaches should see a physician. Any headache that keeps a sufferer from sleeping warrants further investigation by an experienced clinician.
Some headaches don’t respond to common analgesic treatments. Triptans are an example of a group of drugs useful in the treatment of acute attacks of migraine, for example.
Preventative medicine such as Cyproheptadine( brand name Periactin) is necessary if a headache is chronic and debilitating, causing children to miss several days per month from school.
Tips and recommendations to combat headaches
Explore, address and remove social stressors in the family, work, and school environment.
First, get enough sleep, eight to ten hours each night.
Second, remove or switch off the television, computer, and cell phone at bedtime.
Next, avoid earphones; don’t blast music into your eardrums.
It is also important to stay away from foods and drinks that contain caffeine, such as coffee, tea, and soda.
Learn head and neck relaxation techniques.
Eat healthy, plant-based food. Exercise regularly.
Seek and stay in a quiet room until a headache subsides.
Use a journal to document the character of your headache. Share the journal with the clinician.
Build a positive sense of self-esteem.
Anselm Anyoha MD
Disclaimer: This article is not intended to diagnose or treat any diseases but is merely based on the author’s experience. Readers should consult their physician before implementing any part of the suggestions.
If you benefited from this article, please donate a small sum to a nonprofit organization that helps elders in my hometown (Akokwa, Nigeria) live out their lives in dignity.