Heading Off Headaches

Migraines and other headaches aren’t just for grown-ups. Up to eight percent of children will experience a headache by the tender age of three. That number jumps to almost 50 percent by the time they reach seven. And puberty is prime time for the migraine to first rear its head.

The good news is that in the vast majority of cases, headaches can be managed. The key is pinpointing the exact problem and then determining the right treatment.

Searching for the Source

Headaches in children and teenagers can be triggered by a wide range of factors— from the flu to stress at school. Most headaches are not symptoms of a serious disease. Still, any severe headache, or moderate headaches that occur frequently and interfere with your child’s daily activities, should be evaluated by a doctor.

Common symptoms of tension headaches, which can be caused by poor sleep or diet, dehydration or stress, include:

  • Pressure toward the front and sides of the head
  • Tightening, rather than pulsating, pain
  • A dull, aching feeling

Symptoms of migraine headaches, which can last one hour or several days, are:

  • Throbbing, pulsating pain
  • Pain that worsens with physical activity or confines your child to bed
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Sensitivity to light or noise
  • Visual disturbances that precede or accompany the pain (known as migraine with aura)

Help for Headaches

Mild to moderate headaches can usually be treated with over-the-counter medications, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen. It’s important to use these at an appropriate dose and at the first sign of a headache. If these treatments don’t provide adequate relief, especially in the case of migraines, your child’s doctor might prescribe other medicines.

Parents should also consider their child’s lifestyle. Today’s technology-driven children and teens are often eating on the run, lacking exercise and staying up too late. Many headaches can be prevented by following some common-sense guidelines for good health. Encourage your child to:

  • Drink plenty of fluids. Children and teens should aim for four to eight glasses of water a day.
  • Avoid caffeine, as this is a common trigger for headaches, especially migraines.
  • Eat a balanced diet that includes plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Minimize stress and keep a manageable schedule.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Get enough sleep—at least eight to 10 hours a night. Make sure your child turns off the technology at a reasonable hour. Sometimes a good night’s sleep is the best medicine.

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