Recurrent headaches affect 1 in 5 school-age children, requiring proper evaluation and management for improved quality of life
Dr. Rekha Mittal, a renowned Pediatric Neurologist at Madhukar Rainbow children hospital, highlights the prevalence and significance of headaches in children. Contrary to popular belief, children can experience headaches just as frequently and severely as adults, with approximately 1 in 5 school-age children and teenagers suffering from recurrent episodes. Unfortunately, due to their limited ability to express their discomfort, the condition often goes undiagnosed.
While most headaches in children stem from non-serious causes, their impact can be distressing and disruptive, leading to school absences and hindering academic performance. As a result, it becomes essential to assess and treat each child experiencing headaches appropriately.
Headaches in children can arise from various sources, including ear, throat, sinus, eye, or dental issues. Additionally, viral fevers, such as Covid-19, have also been known to trigger headaches. In such cases, addressing the underlying cause typically alleviates the associated headaches.
However, severe headaches can be indicative of brain infections or tumors, accompanied by red flags (BOX 1). These cases require urgent investigation and treatment to mitigate potentially life-threatening conditions.
Migraine and tension-type headaches are the most common types, necessitating individualized treatment approaches
Recurrent headaches in children often fall into two common categories: migraine and tension-type headaches. Migraines manifest as severe, throbbing pain that significantly disrupts daily activities, with affected children typically seeking a resting position. Sensitivity to bright lights and sounds, along with nausea and vomiting, are commonly associated symptoms. Young children may express their pain by crying and holding their heads. Treatment involves medication to relieve pain, and if the frequency of attacks exceeds 2-3 times per month, preventive medications may be prescribed. Additionally, dietary adjustments, such as avoiding caffeine, dry fruits, and monosodium glutamate, may be advised by healthcare professionals.
Tension-type headaches, on the other hand, often arise from stressful situations at home or school. Children experience a pressing tightness in the head or neck muscles, which is milder compared to migraines. They can continue their regular activities without nausea or vomiting. Younger children may exhibit withdrawal from play and increased sleep. Painkillers are commonly used to treat tension-type headaches, and stress management techniques may be recommended.
Both migraine and tension-type headaches can become chronic, occurring as frequently as 15 times per month. Addressing lifestyle factors such as excessive screen time, irregular sleep patterns, and poor eating habits becomes imperative to achieve optimal results alongside medication. Yoga and meditation can also assist in managing headaches.
In conclusion, headaches in children can be a significant concern for parents. Implementing simple lifestyle changes can alleviate symptoms to a certain extent. However, it is crucial not to ignore headaches, as they may indicate underlying serious conditions. Moreover, by proactively addressing headaches, a cycle of headache-stress-headache can be avoided.