Usually you can treat your child's headache at home with rest, decreased noise, plenty of fluids, balanced meals and over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers. If your child is older and has frequent headaches, learning to relax and manage stress through different forms of therapy may help, as well.
OTC pain relievers. Acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) can typically relieve headaches for your child. They should be taken at the first sign of headache.
Use caution when giving aspirin to children or teenagers. Though aspirin is approved for use in children older than age 2, children and teenagers recovering from chickenpox or flu-like symptoms should never take aspirin. Aspirin has been linked to Reye's syndrome, a rare but potentially life-threatening condition, in such children. Talk to your doctor if you have concerns.
Prescription medications. Triptans, prescription drugs used to treat migraines, are effective and can be used safely in children older than 6 years of age.
If your child experiences nausea and vomiting with migraines, your doctor may prescribe an anti-nausea drug. The medication strategy differs from child to child, however. Ask your doctor or pharmacist about nausea relief.
Caution: Overuse of medications is itself a contributing factor to headache (rebound headache). Over time, painkillers and other medications may lose their effectiveness. In addition, all medications have side effects. If your child takes medications regularly, including products you buy over-the-counter, discuss the risks and benefits with your doctor.
While stress doesn't appear to cause headaches, it can act as a trigger for headache or make headache worse. Depression and other mental health disorders also can play a role. For these situations, your doctor may recommend one or more behavior therapies, such as:
- Relaxation training. Relaxation techniques include deep breathing, yoga, meditation and progressive muscle relaxation, which is accomplished by tensing one muscle at a time, and then completely releasing the tension, until every muscle in the body is relaxed. An older child can learn relaxation techniques in classes or at home using books or tapes.
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- Biofeedback training. Biofeedback teaches your child to control certain body responses that help reduce pain. During a biofeedback session, your child is connected to devices that monitor and give feedback on body functions, such as muscle tension, heart rate and blood pressure. Your child then learns how to reduce muscle tension and slow his or her heart rate and breathing. The goal of biofeedback is to help your child enter a relaxed state to better cope with pain.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy. This therapy can help your child learn to manage stress and reduce the frequency and severity of headaches. During this type of talk therapy, a counselor helps your child learn ways to view and cope with life events more positively.
- Tintinalli JE, et al. Tintinalli's Emergency Medicine: A Comprehensive Study Guide. 7th ed. New York, N.Y.: The McGraw-Hill Companies; 2011. http://www.accessmedicine.com/resourceTOC.aspx?resourceID=40. Accessed April 15, 2013.
- Headaches in children. American Headache Society. http://www.achenet.org/resources/headaches_in_children/. Accessed April 15, 2013.
- Arruda MA, et al. Frequent headaches in the preadolescent pediatric population: A population-based study. Neurology. 2010;74:903.
- Robberstad L, et al. An unfavorable lifestyle and recurrent headaches among adolescents: The HUNT Study. Neurology. 2010;75:712.
- Seshia SS. Chronic daily headache in children and adolescents. Current Pain and Headache Reports. 2012;16:60.
- Monteith TS, et al. Tension type headache in adolescence and childhood: Where are we now? Current Pain and Headache Reports. 2010;14:424.
- Arruda MA, et al. Cluster headache in children and adolescents: Ten years of follow-up in three pediatric cases. Cephalalgia. 2011;31:409.
- Treatment of migraine headache in children and adolescents. American Academy of Neurology. www.aan.com/practice/guideline/index.cfm?fuseaction=home.view&guideline=159. Accessed April 16, 2013.