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A to Z Symptom: Headache

What Kinds of Headaches Do Kids Get?

The most common types of headaches in kids and teens are tension headaches and migraines.

Tension headaches cause pain that is often described as:

  • constant pressure around the front and sides of the head, which can feel like a tight band around the head
  • constricting
  • dull
  • aching

Migraines are recurring headaches that cause intense throbbing pain, usually in one area of the head. Some kids get auras. These are neurological symptoms (like blurred vision or seeing spots) that start just before the headache. When a migraine starts, kids can feel nausea or throw up.

What Causes Headaches?

Many different things can bring on a headache, including dehydration, hormone changes (in teens), not getting enough sleep, strong smells, eye strain, stress, some viral infections, lack or food or sleep, or a bump to the head.

Headaches are rarely a sign of something serious.

How Are Headaches Treated?

For both tension headaches and migraines, as soon as symptoms begin, have your child:

  • lie down in a quiet, dark room with a cool cloth on the forehead
  • drink water
  • take acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or other medicine(s) as directed by a doctor

Migraines can come back again and again. Your doctor can help you and your child make a plan for them that may include medicines or other treatments. Avoiding triggers (like eye strain or lack of sleep) as much as possible can make them come less often.

What Else Should I Know?

Most headaches can be managed with home care. But call the doctor if your child’s headaches keep happening over a short period of time, happen once a month or more, don’t go away easily, or are very painful.

All A to Z dictionary entries are regularly reviewed by KidsHealth medical experts.