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Acute Headache In Children


An acute headache is pain or discomfort that starts suddenly and gets worse quickly. Your child may have an acute headache only when he or she feels stress or eats certain foods. Other acute headache pain can happen every day, and sometimes several times a day.


Return to the emergency department if:

  • Your child has severe pain.
  • Your child has numbness on one side of his or her face or body.
  • Your child has a headache that occurs after a blow to the head, a fall, or other trauma.
  • Your child has a headache and is forgetful or confused.

Contact your child's healthcare provider if:

  • Your child has a constant headache and is vomiting.
  • Your child has a headache each day that does not get better, even after treatment.
  • Your child's headaches change, or new symptoms occur when your child has a headache.
  • You have questions or concerns about your child's condition or care.


Your child may need any of the following:

  • Prescription pain medicine may be given. The medicine your child's healthcare provider recommends will depend on the kind of headaches your child has. Your child will need to take prescription headache medicines as directed to prevent a problem called rebound headache. These headaches happen with regular use of pain relievers for headache disorders.
  • NSAIDs , such as ibuprofen, help decrease swelling, pain, and fever. This medicine is available with or without a doctor's order. NSAIDs can cause stomach bleeding or kidney problems in certain people. If your child takes blood thinner medicine, always ask if NSAIDs are safe for him. Always read the medicine label and follow directions. Do not give these medicines to children under 6 months of age without direction from your child's healthcare provider.
  • Acetaminophen decreases pain and fever. It is available without a doctor's order. Ask how much to give your child and how often to give it. Follow directions. Read the labels of all other medicines your child is using to see if they also contain acetaminophen. Ask your doctor or pharmacist if you are not sure. Acetaminophen can cause liver damage if not taken correctly.
  • Do not give aspirin to children under 18 years of age. Your child could develop Reye syndrome if he takes aspirin. Reye syndrome can cause life-threatening brain and liver damage. Check your child's medicine labels for aspirin, salicylates, or oil of wintergreen.
  • Give your child's medicine as directed. Call your child's healthcare provider if you think the medicine is not working as expected. Tell him if your child is allergic to any medicine. Keep a current list of the medicines, vitamins, and herbs your child takes. Include the amounts, and when, how, and why they are taken. Bring the list or the medicines in their containers to follow-up visits. Carry your child's medicine list with you in case of an emergency.

Manage your child's symptoms:

  • Apply heat or ice on the headache area. Use a heat or ice pack. For an ice pack, you can also put crushed ice in a plastic bag. Cover the pack or bag with a towel before you apply it to your child's skin. Ice and heat both help decrease pain, and heat helps decrease muscle spasms. Apply heat for 20 to 30 minutes every 2 hours. Apply ice for 15 to 20 minutes every hour. Apply heat or ice for as long and for as many days as directed. You may alternate heat and ice.
  • Have your child relax his or her muscles. Have your child lie down in a comfortable position and close his or her eyes. Your child should relax muscles slowly, starting at the toes and working up the body.
  • Keep a record of your child's headaches. Write down when the headaches start and stop. Include other symptoms and what your child was doing when the headache began. Record what your child ate or drank for 24 hours before the headache started. Describe the pain and where it hurts. Keep track of what you or your child did to treat the headache and if it worked.

Help your child prevent an acute headache:

  • Have your child avoid anything that triggers an acute headache. Examples include exposure to chemicals, going to high altitude, or not getting enough sleep. Help your child create a regular sleep routine. He or she should go to sleep at the same time and wake up at the same time each day. Do not allow your child to use electronic devices before bedtime. These may trigger a headache or prevent your child from sleeping well.
  • Do not let your adolescent smoke. Nicotine and other chemicals in cigarettes and cigars can trigger an acute headache or make it worse. Ask your adolescent's healthcare provider for information if he or she currently smokes and needs help to quit. E-cigarettes or smokeless tobacco still contain nicotine. Talk to your healthcare provider before your adolescent uses these products.
  • Have your child exercise as directed. Exercise can reduce tension and help with headache pain. Your child should aim for 30 minutes of physical activity on most days of the week. Your healthcare provider can help you create an exercise plan.
  • Offer your child a variety of healthy foods. Healthy foods include fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy products, lean meats, fish, whole grains, and cooked beans. Your healthcare provider or dietitian can help you create meals plans if your child needs to avoid foods that trigger headaches.

Follow up with your child's healthcare provider as directed:

Bring your headache record with you when you see your child's healthcare provider. Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your visits.

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The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.