Understanding and preventing headaches in children

What is normal and what is not?
Overview: Understanding and preventing headaches in children

Even young children may suffer from frequent headaches. The good news: If we understand the causes, we can help children and, at best, protect them from new attacks.

Headaches in preschool age occur in approximately every five children, according to the German Migraine and Headache Society. By the end of primary school more than half of the children are. The older the children and young adults, the higher the percentage.

Symptoms in children often manifest themselves differently than in adults. Tension headaches and migraines are the most common. Using these expert tips, you can identify different headache types, prevent them in the long term, and treat them in severe cases.

1. How do I know if my child has a headache?

School-age children are usually able to tell their parents that they have headaches.

Younger children who are unable or unwilling to express their pain also display typical behaviors that parents can use to identify migraines, for example.

Overview: Understanding and preventing headaches in children

Photo: Kristen Klose / dpa-tmn

Julia Weger, head of research at the German Child Pain Center in Datteln, lists the following points: The child …

  • He withdraws and sits quietly in the corner of the room.
  • eats less.
  • Sensitive to light and noise.
  • For example, I don’t want to watch TV.
  • She looks pale and has dark circles under the eyes.
  • He may also vomit.

2. When is a headache a migraine?

typical of Migraine: Symptoms occur periodically, for example once a month. Then you should definitely consult a pediatrician to clarify a possible migraine.

“In the case of recurrent headaches, it makes perfect sense to keep a headache diary over a period of at least four weeks for better classification.

It should be noted here…

  • In what cases of headache?
  • at any point and
  • With what severity they occur,” advises Paula Dolcher regarding periodic headaches. She is a child and adolescent psychiatrist and has worked as a clinician with young headache patients at the University Hospital in Göttingen.

This sometimes helps identify triggers and differentiate between migraines and tension headaches. The pain clinic in Kiel, for example, offers a special headache calendar for children for download.

For older children and adolescents, child and adolescent psychotherapist Julia Wager recommends the headache orthopedic of the German Pediatric Pain Center, which you can download here.

Tip for kids: the jump test

Wager has practical advice on how your child can learn to distinguish between tension headaches and migraines: using the so-called jump test.

“The child jumps in place or runs up and down the stairs at once. Children often interrupt the jump test immediately when they have a severe migraine attack,” the qualified psychiatrist explains.

With a tension headache, the pain is less severe. Exercise usually does not make headaches worse. Fresh air and distraction usually provide pain relief.

3. What causes headaches in children?

There are various factors that can cause headaches in children. In some cases, it can also be due to a combination of multiple causes. Possible causes are:

  • Stress
  • Lack of exercise
  • bad sleep
  • Noise, poor air, heat or very bright light
  • Especially for migraines: general changes in the circadian rhythm (such as skipping meals)

Overview: Understanding and preventing headaches in children

Photo: Kristen Klose / dpa-tmn

While stress is an important risk factor for headaches, it shouldn’t be completely avoided. “Children can get nervous. This is part of life. It is important that they always have the opportunity to equalise,” Wager says.

In addition to alternating between stress and relaxation, the diet should also be balanced. Parents can follow the Federal Center for Nutrition’s food pyramid guidelines.

4. How can you prevent headaches?

A balanced lifestyle prevents headaches in children.

Overview: Understanding and preventing headaches in children

Photo: Sylvia Marx / dpa-tmn
  • Reducing stress: Techniques such as breathing exercises, imaginary trips or progressive muscle relaxation according to Jacobson are suitable for long-term stress reduction – the child learns to tense individual muscles for a few seconds and relax them again. Relaxation exercises should be enjoyable for the child to want to continue. These methods need some guidance and are more fun together. Therefore, parents should always use it with their children.
  • a movement: “Exercise is an important contribution to stress reduction,” Wager says. A little endurance exercise is enough: walking, running, swimming or cycling. It is best to take it about 30 minutes, two to three times a week.
  • Curiosity of: Observe your child and stay in touch. The expert says: “Good exchange and conversation with the child are important in order to be able to figure it out as parents: What is really busy with my child in everyday life?” “What is beautiful and what is somewhat stressful – access to these things is very important. Parents can then work with their children to look at how they can reduce stress in everyday life.” Often the little things build up in everyday life and eventually lead to lasting stress.
  • calm: The child should have regular breaks throughout the day. It’s time to calm down.
  • Sleeps: To ensure a good night’s sleep, check the following: Is the children’s room dark? Is the room pleasantly cool? Do you turn off your cell phone or tablet or put it away at least half an hour before you go to bed?

The amount of sleep your child needs depends on his age. You can find guidance, for example, at the Professional Association of Pediatricians.

5. What helps if your child has a severe headache?

Döllscher advises that if a situation of acute pain occurs, you should first try to break through this through general measures.

  • For migraines, rest and sleep in a dark room.
  • For a tension headache, get some fresh air and distract it.
  • Cool towel on the forehead.
  • Gentle head massage.

Important: Essential oils such as peppermint oil, as well as eucalyptus, clove or lemon peel oil have a pain-relieving effect in adults, but they should not be used on children under the age of two.

Children can react to this with shortness of breath. This is indicated in the special package leaflet. Take this advice seriously and only give your child preparations that the doctor or pharmacist expressly recommends for each age.

If the headache persists, you can relieve it with a well-tolerated pain reliever, Döllscher recommends. For example with ibuprofen or paracetamol, which you should take depending on your body weight.

Important: The medicine should not be given except after consulting a doctor. Because if any painkillers are taken frequently, there is also a risk of headaches caused by medication in children and teens. For example, the German Migraine and Headache Society mentions this in its brochure entitled Headache in Children.

In addition, headache medications that help adults are sometimes not suitable for children. Acetylsalicylic acid, which is found in aspirin, for example, can cause side effects in children that damage the brain and liver.

Proper use of the drug:

When it comes to migraines, taking medication correctly is especially important. “The sooner you administer the medication, the more likely it is that the attack will actually stop,” Wiger explains.

The correct dosage is also important: do not give more, but also no less than what the doctor recommends. The seizure usually ends after half an hour to an hour.

6. When should you take your child to the doctor?

According to the above handbook from the German Migraine and Headache Society, you and your child should consult a doctor in the following cases:

  • The headache keeps coming back (several times a month or weekly) and the child doesn’t have an infection.
  • The pain is very strong at once.
  • The child wakes up at night with a headache.
  • Obvious accompanying symptoms, such as aura symptoms (eg blurred vision) or fever, occur.
  • The usual headache changes significantly.

7. Who can help children with frequent headaches?

Julia Weiger points out that – in addition to the above criteria – you should definitely see a pediatrician if your child is absent from school because of headaches or is no longer engaging in usual recreational activities.

It is also recommended to visit an ophthalmologist. According to the German Migraine Association, lack of drift can be a cause of headaches.

Correct diagnosis is critical to successful treatment. It can be greatly facilitated by keeping a headache diary mentioned above.

If your family doctor doesn’t know what to do, pediatric pain centers or a headache outpatient clinic can be points of contact. Doctors and psychologists work together in these outpatient clinics.

Headaches can be triggered by stress of any kind: schoolwork, bullying, as well as family problems. In order to track down the exact cause, in consultation with the pediatrician, contacting psychotherapy can also help.

Just like adults, children with migraines are treated not only with medication, but on several levels, i.e. multimodal. Various techniques such as physical stimulation, stress management methods, and relaxation techniques are combined.

The German Pediatric Pain Center has put together a wonderful online movie that explains to children what migraine headaches are and how to control them.

8. Can migraines be treated?

Migraines can go away during puberty or puberty. However, there is no treatment that cures migraine headaches.

“It is important that the child receive treatment that takes into account the special characteristics of children and young adults and also includes psychological and social aspects,” Wager says.

Parents and children should be given the opportunity to understand each headache and learn how to deal with it together.

© dpa-infocom, dpa: 211028-99-773370 / 57


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