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General Headache in Children

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Jan 5, 2023.

Headache pain may be mild or severe. Common causes include stress, medicines, and head injuries. Sleep problems, allergies, and hormone changes can also cause a headache. Your child may have frequent headaches that have no clear cause. Pain may start in another part of your child's body and move to his or her head. Headache pain can also move to other parts of your child's body. A headache can cause other symptoms, such as nausea and vomiting. A severe headache may be a sign of a stroke or other serious problem that needs immediate treatment.


Call your local emergency number (911 in the US) for any of the following:

Your child has any of the following signs of a stroke:

  • Numbness or drooping on one side of his or her face
  • Weakness in an arm or leg
  • Confusion or difficulty speaking
  • Dizziness or a severe headache
  • Changes to his or her vision, or vision loss

Return to the emergency department if:

  • Your child has a headache with neck stiffness and a fever.
  • Your child has a constant headache and is vomiting.
  • Your child has severe pain that does not get better after he or she takes pain medicine.
  • Your child has a headache and the pain worsens when he or she looks into light.
  • Your child has a headache and vision changes, such as blurred vision.
  • Your child has a headache and is forgetful or confused.

Call your child's doctor if:

  • Your child has a headache each day that does not get better, even after treatment.
  • Your child has changes in headaches, or new symptoms that occur when he or she has a headache.
  • Others who live or work with your child also have headaches.
  • You have questions or concerns about your child's condition or care.


Your child may need any of the following:

  • Medicines may be given to prevent or treat headache pain. Do not wait until the pain is severe to give your child the medicine. Ask your child's healthcare provider how to give the medicine safely.
  • Antinausea medicine may be given to calm your child's stomach and help prevent vomiting.
  • 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 or her. Always read the medicine label and follow directions. Do not give these medicines to children younger than 6 months without direction from a 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 uses to see if they also contain acetaminophen, or ask your child's doctor or pharmacist. Acetaminophen can cause liver damage if not taken correctly.
  • Do not give aspirin to children younger than 18 years. Your child could develop Reye syndrome if he or she has the flu or a fever and takes aspirin. Reye syndrome can cause life-threatening brain and liver damage. Check your child's medicine labels for aspirin or salicylates.
  • Give your child's medicine as directed. Contact your child's healthcare provider if you think the medicine is not working as expected. Tell the provider 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:

  • Have your child rest in a dark and quiet room. This may help decrease your child's pain.
  • Apply heat or ice as directed. Heat and ice help decrease pain, and heat also decreases muscle spasms. Use a heat or ice pack. For ice, 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. Apply heat or ice on the area for 20 minutes every 2 hours for as many days as directed. Your healthcare provider may recommend that you alternate heat and ice.
  • Have your child relax muscles to help relieve a headache. Have your child lie down in a comfortable position and close his or her eyes. Tell him or her to relax muscles slowly, starting at the toes and working up the body. A massage or warm bath may also help relax the muscles.

Keep a headache record:

Record the dates and times that your child gets headaches. Include what he or she was doing before the headache started. Also record anything your child ate or drank in the 24 hours before the headache started. This might help your healthcare provider find the cause of your child's headaches and make a treatment plan. The record can also help your child avoid headache triggers or manage symptoms.

Help your child get enough sleep:

Your child should get 8 to 10 hours of sleep each night. Help your child create a sleep schedule. Have your child go to bed and wake up at the same times each day. It may be helpful for your child to do something relaxing before bed. Do not let your child watch television right before bed.

Have your child drink liquids as directed:

Your child may need to drink more liquid to prevent dehydration. Dehydration can cause a headache. Ask your child's healthcare provider how much liquid your child needs each day and which liquids are best for him or her. Have your child limit caffeine as directed. Headaches may be triggered by caffeine. Your child may also develop a headache if he or she drinks caffeine regularly and suddenly stops.

Offer your child a variety of healthy foods:

Do not let your child skip meals. Too little food can trigger a headache. Include fruits, vegetables, whole-grain breads, low-fat dairy products, beans, lean meat, and fish. Do not let your child have trigger foods, such as chocolate. Foods that contain gluten, nitrates, MSG, or artificial sweeteners may also trigger a headache.

Talk to your adolescent about not smoking:

Nicotine and other chemicals in cigarettes and cigars can trigger a headache or make it worse. Do not smoke around your child or let anyone else smoke around your child. Secondhand smoke can also trigger a 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 adolescent's healthcare provider before he or she uses these products.

Follow up with your child's doctor as directed:

Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your child's 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.

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