Headaches in Children: Should You Be Worried About Your Child’s Headache?

Headaches are common in children and teens. A study revealed that 56% of boys and 74% of girls between 12 and 17 reported having a headache within the past month. By 15 years old, 5% of children and teens have had migraines and 15% have had tension headaches.

The occurrence of headaches and migraines in children may cause parents to worry that this could be a sign of a brain tumour or serious medical condition. However, health experts assured that headaches and migraines in children and teens are not a cause for alarm and does not signify the onset of a serious illness.

What types of headaches do children and teens get?

Most headaches in children are due to an illness, infection, cold or fever and can come in one of the following forms:


Tension Headache

A tension headache starts off as a dull pain that stretches across your forehead and/or the sides and back of your head. Although the pain often increases gradually, starting from around mid-day, Stewart Tepper, M.D., a headache and medicine specialist at the Cleveland Clinic, says that “it is rarely debilitating”.

Common causes of tension headaches in children include academic stress as well as emotional stress related to family, school or friends. Other causes of tension headaches include eyestrain and neck or back strain due to poor posture, a lack of exercise and infrequent eating. According to health experts, people with overactive pain receptors may be more prone to discomfort when having tension headaches.


Migraines involve an intense, one-sided, throbbing pain that may or may not be accompanied by nausea, vomiting or sensitivity to bright lights and sounds. This pain that often worsens with physical activity can last for a few days and be so severe that the only way to ease this condition is to lie down in the dark. Migraine attacks that are less intense may involve a cluster headache, especially when your eyes tear up.

An estimated 70% of children and teens who have migraines have an immediate family member who also suffers from this condition. Children and teens with migraines may also inherit the tendency to be affected by certain migraine triggers such as fatigue, bright lights and changes in weather condition. Other possible triggers include stress, anxiety, a change in routine or sleep pattern, consumption of certain foods, food additives and beverages; and excessive physical activity under the sun. In girls, changes during the menstrual cycle may also trigger a migraine episode.

Sinus Pain

Scott Stringer, M.D., Chair of the Department Otolaryngology at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, explains sinus pain as a “heaviness in your sinuses that stays until the infection or blockage is relieved”. In other words, sinus pain does not come and go (unlike a migraine or tension headache), and usually comes with symptoms such as a stuffy and runny nose with yellow or greenish phlegm, as well as a fever.

The swelling and inflammation of your sinuses (the small, hollow spaces around your eyes, cheeks and nose) can lead to facial and head pain. Also known as sinusitis, this is usually caused by bacterial or fungal infections, or the common cold. One study suggests that 90% of the time, people tend to think of sinus pain as migraines due to the similarity in symptoms.


How are headaches in children treated, and will they ever outgrow this illness? Check out the facts and explanation on the next page.


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