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First Aid: Headaches

Headaches usually are brief and can be caused by many things, including too little sleep, eye strain, stress, sinus infections, or a bump to the head. Some headaches last longer and come with other symptoms. Very rarely, headaches can be a sign of something serious.

Signs and Symptoms

The two most common types of headaches in kids and teens are tension headaches and migraine headaches.

Of a tension headache:

  • a feeling of squeezing or pressure around the front, sides, and back of the head
  • dull, steady pain
  • pain is not worsened by activity
  • no nausea or vomiting
  • muscles of the scalp, face, and shoulders may be sore to the touch

Of a migraine headache:

  • pounding, throbbing pain on one or both sides of the head
  • pain is worsened by rapid motion
  • dizziness, feeling tired
  • nausea, vomiting, abdominal (belly) pain
  • seeing spots or halos
  • sensitivity to light, noise, and/or smells

What to Do

Most headaches require little medical intervention. To help ease pain, have your child:

  • lie down in a dark, quiet room
  • take acetaminophen or ibuprofen as needed
  • put a cool, moist cloth across the forehead or eyes

Seek Medical Care

If the Headaches:

  • occur once a month or more
  • don't go away easily
  • are more painful than usual
  • prevent your child from participating in everyday activities
  • follow a head injury or loss of consciousness
  • come with any of these symptoms:
    • decreased alertness or confusion
    • fever or persistent vomiting
    • seizures
    • changes in vision
    • weakness
    • skin rash
    • neck pain or stiffness

Think Prevention!

Some types of headaches can be prevented by avoiding certain things that can cause them, such as getting too little sleep, certain medications, not drinking enough fluids, and using the computer or watching TV for a long time.

Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: April 2014