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Food & Health

Should You Be Worried About Your Child's Headache?

Whether they’re pounding and throbbing, or dull and aching, headaches are common in kids. But is there a cause to worry? Associate Professor Ong Hian Tat, Senior Consultant, Division of Paediatric Neurology at National University Hospital gives us the lowdown.

  • How common are headaches in children?
    Headaches in children are common and usually aren’t serious. The local data from our study of headaches in school children that was published in the journal ‘Cephalalgia’ in 2010 showed that 50 per cent of Primary One school students would have had experienced headache.


  • Share with us the triggers of headaches.
    There are many triggers of headaches. These include infections such as colds, flu, ear and sinus infections, stress and anxiety, including problems with school, teachers, friends, and parents, irregular sleep schedule, dehydration, skipping meals, changes in the weather, and even minor head trauma like bumps, knocks and bruises.
  • What are the types of headaches children face?
    Doctors and neurologists broadly divide headaches into two areas – primary and secondary causes. While the secondary cause is usually linked to brain tumour, primary headaches are those that show no obvious causes that can be visualised from brain scans. A otherwise normal child having recurrent headache, but with no other abnormal neurological symptoms or signs, most likely has primary headaches. Most children with primary headaches are often diagnosed as being the tension type headaches or migrainous headaches, depending on other clinical features.


  • Headaches and migraines in children – is there a difference?
    Headache is just one neurological symptom, whereas migraine is a specific form of headache syndrome with some other clinical features or symptoms that when taken together allows the diagnosis of migraine to be made. A child who is too young to tell you what’s wrong may cry and hold their head to indicate severe pain. Migraine often results in intense pulsing, throbbing or pounding
    head pain. These headaches worsen with exertion.
  • When should parents seek medical attention?
    Most headaches are not serious, but parents should prompt medical care if your child’s headaches: wake them from sleep, worsen or become more frequent, cause changes in your child’s personality, follow an injury, such as a blow or knock to the head, persistent vomiting or visual changes, are accompanied by fever and neck pain or neck stiffness.

The most important factor triggering tension-type headaches in our school children is sleep deprivation (chronic lack of sleep).

Besides medication, are there otherways to keep the headaches in control?
There are many other ways to reduce the frequency and/or severity of the headaches. These include biofeedback, relaxation therapy, cognitive-behavioural therapy, physical therapy and regular exercise.

Parents should also seek urgent medical attention if your child has the first, very severe (worst ever) headache in their life, as acute bleeding in the brain due to sudden rupture of the blood vessel in the brain can sometimes be present this way. It’s best to always seek medical advise whenever you are unsure.