Pediatric Headache Red Flags

Pediatric Headache is one of the most common types of headaches in children, affecting up to 25% of all school-aged children mostly between the ages of 3 and 18.

This type of headache is also the most common reason for children to seek medical care. It can be a result of genetics, trauma, a metabolic or vascular disease, or even sinusitis.

In this article, we’ll be looking at Pediatric headache red flags, its signs, symptoms, and treatment options.

What Are Pediatric Headaches?

A pediatric headache is the feeling of pain or discomfort in the head or face area in children. It can be single or recurrent and can be limited to one or more areas of the head and face.

Recognizing that pediatric headaches can be due to primary and secondary causes is important in their treatment.

In pediatric patients, it has been found that there are two major causes of headaches: tension and migraine. Tension headaches are usually not accompanied by nausea and vomiting, but migraines can be accompanied by these symptoms as well as sensitivity to light and sound.

Symptoms and Signs of Pediatric Headaches – What Are the Red Flags?

Primary headaches

They are a result of tight muscles, dilated vessels, and alterations in communication between parts of the nervous system, or they can be due to inflammation of the structures in the brain and might not be linked to another medical condition.

These are the following types of primary headaches include the following:

Migraines

Migraines could begin early in childhood. According to available data, It is estimated that nearly 20 percent of teens experience migraine headaches.

The average age it begins is 7 years for boys and 10 years for girls.

In some cases, there is usually a family history of migraines.

In females, migraines might come up during their menstrual periods.

While symptoms may vary in children, these are some of the most common symptoms of a migraine:

  • Pain on one or both parts of the head. Pain all over the head is not uncommon.
  • They may experience throbbing or pounding pain. You should know that children might find it challenging to describe them and tell the difference.
  • Acute Sensitivity to light or sound
  • Nausea, sometimes accompanied by vomiting
  • Discomfort in the abdomen
  • Sweating
  • The child could become quiet/have a change of personality. Some Children may experience funny smells and feelings of shiny lights.

Tension Headaches

Tension headaches are known as the most common form of headache.

Stress and mental or emotional distress are often factors in triggering pain relating to tension headaches.

While symptoms may vary in children, these are some of the most common symptoms of tension headache:

  • The headache starts slowly.
  • The headache is painful on both sides
  • The pain is normally dull or feels like a band around the head
  • It may be noticed at the back of the head or neck
  • The pain is noticeably mild to moderate, but not acute
  • There is a change in the child’s sleeping habits
  • nausea, vomiting, and light sensitivity are not common symptoms..

Cluster Headaches

Cluster headaches are usually experienced by 10 years and above. They occur mostly in adolescent boys. 

They occur less frequently than migraines and tension headaches. 

Cluster headaches may usually occur serially and may last weeks or months, and also return once every two years.

While symptoms may vary in children, these are some of the most common symptoms of tension headache:

  • Severe pain in one part of the head, especially behind one eye
  • The affected eye may be noticeably red. It could have a droopy lid, a small pupil, coupled with swelling of the eyelid
  • Runny nose or nasal congestion
  • Swelling of the forehead

Secondary Headaches

These are a result of natural causes in the brain, mostly due to the current structure of the brain brought about by another health condition or disease. Secondary headaches are the least common type of headaches.

What Symptoms of Headache Should You Be Worried About?

Children may exhibit varying degrees of symptoms associated with the acuteness of the headache which is dependent on the type of headache they’re struggling with. 

Some may be may pose no cause for concern while some symptoms may suggest an even more serious underlying cause, it is important to take these symptoms seriously:

  • A very young child with a very painful headache 
  • A child that is awakened by the sudden pain of a headache
  • Headaches that start at the early hours of the morning.
  • Pain that is exacerbated by strain like a cough or sneeze
  • Recurrent vomiting without nausea or other symptoms of a stomach virus
  • If they describe the headache as the worst headache they have ever had, you should be attentive.
  • Headache that comes with personality changes 
  • A change in vision
  • Noticeable weakness in the arms or legs alongside balance problems
  • Seizures or epilepsy. You should see a doctor immediately

The symptoms of a headache may mimic other conditions or medical problems. Always consult your child’s doctor for a diagnosis.

The signs of pediatric headache vary depending on the type of headache, which may include:

  • Painful and stiff neck
  • Stuffy nose
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Headaches in the morning or after eating
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness:
  • Difficulty concentrating or focusing on tasks

It is worth noting that infants can also have migraines. A child who is too young to tell you what’s wrong with him/her may cry to draw parental attention.

Treatment Options for Pediatric Headaches – Medication & Home Remedies

You should know that specific treatment for headaches will be determined by your pediatrician according to:

  • The child’s age, health, and medical history
  • The severity of the headaches
  • The type of headache.
  • The child’s tolerance to specific drugs and treatment.

Doctors might recommend that the child should:

  • Rest in a quiet and dark environment
  • Take medications as recommended by the doctor
  • Undergo stress management in case there are stress triggers. 
  • Avoid known triggers and specific foods like beverages.
  • Sleep more.
  • Undergo Dietary changes
  • Exercise more.

You should know that specific treatment for headaches will be determined by your pediatrician according to:

  • The child’s age, health, and medical history
  • The severity of the headaches
  • The type of headache.
  • The child’s tolerance to specific drugs and treatment.

Doctors might recommend that the child should:

  • Rest in a quiet and dark environment
  • Take medications as recommended by the doctor
  • Undergo stress management in case there are stress triggers. 
  • Avoid known triggers and specific foods like beverages.
  • Sleep more.
  • Undergo Dietary changes
  • Exercise more.

Some migraine headaches may need specific treatment e.g

  • Abortive medicines:  These are prescribed by doctors to act on specific receptors in blood vessels in the head so as to stop the headache in its tracks
  • Rescue medicines: These can be gotten over the counter and are taken to help deal with headaches. E.g Aspirin etc.
  • Preventive medicines. These are drugs taken daily to prevent migraines from occurring.

It is important to note that some headaches may need urgent medical attention which might include hospitalization for observation, diagnostic testing, or in some cases surgery. 

Treatment of migraine will also depend on the extent of the underlying condition that is causing the headache. 

The extent of recovery is also dependent on the type of headache and other medical conditions that may be present.

Home Remedies for Mild & Moderate Pediatric Headaches – Over-the-Counter & Natural Treatments

For headaches and migraines that do not require medical attention, there are ways to deal with your child’s symptoms:

  • Prioritize Rest and sleep: Preferably resting or sleeping in a dark and quiet room is mostly the most effective way to deal with headaches and migraine.
  • Applying an ice pack: You can apply it to the forehead, the eyes, and also the back of the neck.
  • Apply heat: You can apply heat to your child’s head or neck, and also have them take a warm shower.
  • Make them relax: Relaxing is very important especially when it comes to dealing with headaches. This includes breathing exercises, muscle relaxation, mental imagery relaxation and also listening to relaxing music.
  • Food and water: These two are very important. Do not let your children stay hungry or dehydrated. They need to stay filled and hydrated.
  • Medication: Drugs like ibuprofen [Advil/Motrin] or acetaminophen (Tylenol), help to deal with headaches especially before it goes out of hand. It is worth noting that Asprin should not be given to kids as it could result in a potentially fatal condition called Reye syndrome.

Conclusion:

It is important to take note of your children’s symptoms and understand the changes in their personalities.

I hope this piece on Pediatric Health red flags was helpful. Kindly share and drop a comment as we would like to hear from you.

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