In this section
Headaches are a common and frustrating problem in children and
adolescents. They are generally not serious. In
fact, between five and eight out of every
10 teenagers say they get at least one headache each month.
However, headaches that occur more often than this can be
upsetting and may begin to worry you and your child. The most
common headaches for teenagers are tension headaches and
There are many different types of headaches and reasons as to
why they occur. Headaches can range in severity from mild to
very severe and will affect people in different ways.
Some types of headache include:
Tension headaches are common and are not
associated with vomiting or visual changes. They are usually
described as dull and steady, do not get better with sleep and are
generally triggered by stress.
Migraine headaches are usually on one side,
with pulsing or throbbing pain. Migraines may get better or go away
altogether with sleep. During a migraine you may also
It is not always known what causes headaches in many teenagers. However, some teenagers will be affected by common triggers such as artificial
sweeteners, chocolate, caffeine, flashing lights, loud
noises, not enough sleep, too much stress, and missing meals.
To try to find out what starts your child's headaches, help them to keep a headache
diary or daily headache journal, that includes:
This information will help the doctor to find the best way of
managing and treating your child's headaches in the future.
To prevent headaches, encourage your child to avoid any specific triggers
that they have found. It is a good idea to make sure that they are getting enough sleep, proper nutrition (limiting high
sugar and high fat foods, eating fruits, vegetables, lean meats and
low fat dairy products) and regular exercise. Also make sure
that they have not taken on too many school and extracurricular
For the management of the
occasional headache, your child can take an over-the-counter pain
medicine, such as paracetamol (Panadol, Dymadon etc)
or ibuprofen (Nurofen etc). Do not use pain medication too
often (i.e. don't take pain relief every day), because this
can cause rebound headaches.
Rebound headaches from overusing
pain-medication can be very painful and are a common cause of
chronic daily headaches. If your child is having rebound headaches,
it is important to stop all pain medications to break the
For more severe, recurrent headaches, your child may be prescribed
a stronger, combination medicine. If the headaches are very
frequent, they might be advised to try a daily
'prophylactic' medicine to help prevent them from getting
these headaches. It is important to discuss and plan this with the doctor.
There is no cure for migraine headaches. Anything that has
triggered a migraine in the past should be avoided if possible.
If you are worried about your child's headaches, or they begin to
disrupt school, home or social life, see the doctor. Other
signs that mean your child should visit your doctor include:
See the doctor if:
Developed by Dept of Neurology at
the Royal Children's Hospital. First published July 2008.
Updated November 2010.