Types of headaches in kids and why you should not ignore symptoms

headache in kids

A headache might be a symptom of some chronic ailment. (Source: Getty Images)

Not just adults, children and teenagers can get headaches too. Researches have shown that approximately 75 per cent of children of school-going age may experience a headache occasionally and among them, 10 per cent suffer from regular and chronic conditions.

Headaches can be of two kinds: primary headache disorder, such as migraine, tension-type headache, chronic daily headache, cluster headache, paroxysmal hemicranias for which there is no contributing aetiology and the pain is caused due to certain intrinsic processes, and other trigeminal autonomic cephalism; and secondary headache disorder, that is, one which arises as a symptom of another ailment.

About 58.4 per cent of school-going children are the victims of different forms of primary headache disorder. Common reasons for headache include peer pressure, performance pressure or poor performances and decreased extracurricular activities.

Primary headaches can be diagnosed by a thorough and careful study of the medical history and physical examination. Once the diagnosis establishes a particular type, appropriate and individually tailored treatment strategy needs to be determined. The objective of the treatment generally comprises abortive pain treatment, preventive treatment, and bio-behavioural therapy. A thorough apprehension of the child's condition and quality of life is of utmost importance in order to design a comprehensive treatment strategy.

Parents can sometimes find it difficult to gauge the seriousness of the problem since children often fail to elaborate their complaint. Kids experiencing headaches are often snappy, irascible and violent. Also, children suffer from different types of headaches with different symptoms. Here are a few common ones:


According to World Health Organisation (WHO), migraine is one of the most enervative illnesses. The symptoms are:

1. Throbbing pain in the head which worsens with exertion

2. Nausea and vomiting

3. Abdominal cramps

4. Acute sensitivity to sound and light

Tension-induced headaches

These are more common in children and teenagers as compared to adults. Often tension and fatigue results in disruption in the normal blood flow to the tissues of the head and neck causing a headache.

The symptoms are:

1. Pain on both sides of the forehead

2. Stiffening of the muscles around the head and neck region

Cluster headaches

Cluster headaches occur in a cluster of five or more bouts over a period of a day or even a week. Each bout can last for 15 mins to three hours. These are the symptoms:

1. Excruciating pain on one side of the forehead

2. Nasal congestion, watery eyes, fretfulness and agitation

Different triggers can cause headaches in children in the form of a migraine, tension-induced headache or a chronic headache, such as:

1. A seasonal flu and viral infection, persistent sinus infection, or tonsillitis

2. Stress and fatigue, sleep deprivation

3. Excess physical exertion

4. Eye Strain due to reading for long hours, watching TV for a long time and playing video games

5. A head injury

6. Tumour

7. Emotional stress, peer pressure, performance pressure

8. Brain infections like meningitis and encephalitis

9. Food allergies to preservatives like nitrates or MSG

10. Hunger and dehydration leading to drop in blood sugar levels

Also Read| How to prevent infectious diseases among children this winter

Often a bout of headache is neglected without seeking medical intervention. Adolescents and even parents these days tend to pop analgesics and paracetamols rather than visiting a doctor. This may be detrimental since it leads to the development of medication-overuse headache which is resistant to most of the available treatments.

A head-massage, cold compress or good sleep can bring some relief in case of non-chronic headaches. Balanced diet and outdoor activities are recommended. It is of utmost importance to identify and avoid the headache triggers. A headache might be a symptom of some chronic ailment, neglecting which could lead to fatal consequences. It is extremely important to pay attention to your child's complaint and seek a medical practitioner's advice.

(With inputs from Dr Sundar C Ingaleshwar, consultant, paediatric intensivist, Columbia Asia Referral Hospital Yeshwanthpur)