Kids and Headaches


What is a Headache?

A headache is pain or discomfort in the head or face area. It can be acute (sudden) or chronic (recurrent). “For a child with an acute headache, you want to make sure there are no other problems that need to be addressed, such as an infection,” says Fernandez. If a child has chronic headaches, but their neurological (nervous system) exams are normal, migraines may be the problem.

More About Migraines

Although there are no blood tests to determine if a child has a migraine, family history usually helps physicians pinpoint the diagnosis. Migraines can be brought on by food triggers, such as chocolate, cheeses and foods with preservatives such as nitrates. Nitrates can be found in favorite childhood foods including hot dogs and bologna, says Fernandez. Environmental elements including glare and sun exposure can also set them in motion. So how can you tell if your child has a migraine? Pay attention to these common symptoms:

  • Abdominal discomfort
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Pain on one or both sides of the head
  • Facial pallor (paleness) during headache
  • Relief of headache pain with sleep

Pain Relievers

Responding quickly is key to treating headaches and migraines. Over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen should be taken right away. “If you wait too long, nothing is going to help,” says Dr. Fernandez. Letting your child rest in a dark room or applying cold compresses are other ways parents can help ease the pain.

How can children practice proper headache hygiene?

Establishing good habits can help keep headaches at bay. These headache hygiene measures can help:

  • Regulate your child’s sleep
  • Find ways to help them cope with stress
  • Avoid triggers
  • Eat nutritious meals consistently
  • Drink at least 8 glasses of fluid per day for adequate fluid intake
  • Exercise at least 5 times per week for 30 minutes or more. This can help with stress and depression as well.

Fast Facts

  • When tension headaches occur most often: 9-12 Years Old
  • When migraines may start: 5-8 Years Old
  • When cluster headaches usually start: 10 Years Old

View the full feature on Kids and Headaches

Physician Focus: Dr. Amanda N. Fernandez

Dr. Amanda N. Fernandez
Dr. Amanda N. Fernandez
CHOC Neuroscience Institute

Dr. Fernandez completed her pediatric residency at Kings County Hospital in Brooklyn, NY and her fellowship in Pediatric Neurology at the University of Miami/Jackson Memorial Medical Center. She is a member of the American Academy of Neurology, American Epilepsy Society and the Child Neurology Society.

Dr. Fernandez’s philosophy of care: “My philosophy is family-centered; looking at the child’s whole picture of health. It’s not just treating the pain or headache, but understanding the other psycho-social reasons for their pain.”


University of the East, Ramon Magsaysay Memorial Medical Center, Philippines

Board Certifications

Pediatrics and Child Neurology

More about Dr. Fernandez | More about the CHOC Neuroscience Institute

This article was featured in the Orange County Register on September 9, 2013 and was written by Shaleek Wilson.


4 thoughts on “Kids and Headaches”

  1. Our son is 11 yo and within the last few months has had 5 or 6 severe headaches which lasted approximately 45-90 minutes. The first time this happened, we were ready to take him to the ER. He was almost unable to walk. To me it was very odd. He seemed slightly incoherent and couldn’t or wouldn’t answer some simple questions. He plays ice hockey and I am always concerned about concussion symptoms although I am not aware that he has ever had a concussion. We were considering having him checked but decided to just keep an eye on him and see if we noticed any other symptoms. Anyway, it soon started to subside and we brushed it off as just a bad headache. A few weeks later, the same thing reoccurred when he and his younger sister were fighting or something. And again, similar symptoms.

    This evening was the most recent incident. We immediately gave him a regular dose of childrens chewable tylenol. It lasted about 60 minutes where he could only say over and over that his head hurt. There was very little else we could do to communicate with him until it subsided. I have never heard of anything like this. Im am beginning to wander, does my son have some sort of neurological disorder or anxiety attacks or possibly cluster headache? Is there some sort of headache that has this type of debilitating affect that passes with the headache itself? He is fine again now. He was hungry afterwards, ate something, and now ready to go to bed. Thanks for any help you can offer.

    1. We have been experiencing the same symptoms with our daughter who is nine. It happened again todaycomplaining of a headache followed by vomiting. Usually starts after Recess at school which is later in the day and continues in the afternoon. Very concerned. As I think everybody does after vomiting you do feel better and now she also feels hungry. Again, very concerned.

  2. my 5 year old has back head pain for 2 years , they dont last long but usually when he wakes up is tired and has pain after few minutes he is fine

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