Keep a headache diary

If your child has been having headaches, it is very important and helpful to keep a headache diary. Note when the headache began, how long it lasted, what helped the headache get better (sleep or Tylenol, for instance), what the headache felt like (pounding or a tightness, for instance), and if there were any other symptoms like nausea, vomiting, or a sensitivity to light or sound. There are a lot of apps that teenagers can use to keep track of their headaches on their phones. (But be careful because too much screen time can also trigger a headache.)

Preventable causes of headache

Common causes of headaches include dehydration, not getting enough sleep, skipping meals, stress, too much screen time, and needing glasses. So make sure your child is drinking enough water, going to sleep at a reasonable time, and wearing glasses if they have them. Using stress-relieving practices can also help headaches.

Treating a headache

Often, kids and adults will try to "work through" the pain and will only take medicine once the headache gets very bad, but this makes the headache harder to treat. Instead, give your child acetaminophen or ibuprofen at the start of the headache. But remember not to give medicine more than 3 days per week for headache because that could actually cause a new type of headache called rebound headache. Do not give aspirin to children.

Come see your pediatrician if…

  • This headache is "the worst headache of their life."
  • They also have a fever, neck pain or stiffness, vomiting, changes in vision or double vision, weakness, numbness, balance problems, or difficulty speaking or understanding.
  • You think your child is acting "out of it" or is difficult to arouse.
  • Your child recently hit their head and then developed the headache.
  • Your child has had a headache for a while and it is getting in the way of their daily activities. Remember to bring in their headache diary!
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