If you get headaches, you're not alone. Lots of kids have headaches from time to
Let's find out more about headaches and how you can feel better.
What Is a Headache?
Although it may feel like it, a headache is not a pain in your brain.
Your brain tells you when other parts of your body hurt, but it can't actually feel
pain. Most headaches happen in the
nerves, blood vessels, and muscles that cover a person's head and neck. Sometimes
the muscles or blood vessels swell, which means they get larger.
They also can tighten or go through other changes that stimulate or put pressure
on the surrounding nerves. The nerves send a rush of pain messages to your brain,
and you end up with a headache.
What Are the Kinds of Headaches?
The most common type of headache is a tension, or muscle-contraction,
headache. This happens when stressed-out head or neck muscles
keep squeezing too hard. When you get this kind of headache, the pain is usually dull
and constant. It might feel as though something is pressing or squeezing on the front,
back, or both sides of your head.
Pain that's especially sharp and throbbing can be a sign of a different kind of
headache called a migraine (say: MY-grayne).
Migraine headaches aren't as common as tension headaches, especially in kids, but
they can still happen. Sometimes, just before a migraine happens, the person sees
wavy lines or bright spots of light. This is called an aura (say:
AWR-uh). Also, kids who get migraines often feel sick to their stomachs and sometimes
What Causes Headaches?
Sometimes a headache is just a part of another illness, such as a cold
or flu or strep throat. When you get
better, the headache gets better, too.
If you're not sick, other triggers may cause a headache. For example, staying up
too late, skipping a meal, or playing in the hot sun too long can set off a headache.
Excitement about a special event or worry about something (a school exam, for instance)
can also cause headaches. Some kids get headaches from riding in a car or bus or from
straining their eyes by spending too much time watching TV or using
Strong odors, such as perfume,
smoke, fumes, or the smell of a new car or carpet, can start a headache.
Some foods can cause headaches in some kids, such as bacon, bologna, and hot dogs.
The caffeine in sodas, chocolate,
coffee, and tea may cause headaches, too. Kids don't need caffeine, so it's a good
idea to limit it in your diet.
Sometimes no one knows why a kid gets headaches, but if you get them, chances are
someone in your family gets them, too. The tendency to get headaches is often inherited.
In other words, it runs in the family.
Most headaches will go away after you've rested or slept awhile. When you get one,
the first thing you should do is tell an adult, so he or she can help. Lie down in
a cool, dark, quiet room and close your eyes. Put a cool, moist cloth across your
forehead or eyes. Relax. Breathe easily and deeply.
A grown-up can give you a pain relief medicine —
either acetaminophen (say: uh-see-tuh-MIH-nuh-fun) or ibuprofen
(say: i-byoo-PROfun). You want to avoid taking aspirin for a headache because it may
cause a rare but dangerous disease called Reye syndrome (say: RYE
When Should I Go to a Doctor?
Headaches are very rarely a sign of anything serious. Headache triggers such as
eating certain foods, being stressed out, or not getting enough sleep are much more
likely causes of headaches in kids. Or sometimes, there's no obvious reason at all.
Still, there are times when your mom or dad should talk with the doctor about your
when a headache is particularly painful
when a headache doesn't go away easily
when a headache follows an injury, such as hitting your head
when your vision is affected
when you feel tingling sensations
when you just don't seem like your usual self
when headaches occur once a month or more
when headaches cause you to miss school
A doctor can help you and your parents figure out why you're getting headaches
and might be able to help you keep them from happening so often. Sometimes relaxation
exercises or changes in diet or sleeping habits are all that's needed. If necessary,
a doctor also can prescribe medication to control headaches.
If you're bothered by headaches, you don't have to put up with the pain. Sometimes
relief is just a nap away. Other times, seeing a doctor may be necessary. But there's
almost always something that you, your parents, and your doctor can do to help.