Kids and Headaches


A headache is pain or discomfort in the head or face area. It can be acute (sudden) or chronic (recurrent). “For a child with an acute headache, you want to make sure there are no other problems that need to be addressed, such as an infection,” says Fernandez. If a child has chronic headaches, but their neurological (nervous system) exams are normal, migraines may be the problem.


Although there are no blood tests to determine if a child has a migraine, family history usually helps physicians pinpoint the diagnosis. Migraines can be brought on by food triggers, such as chocolate, cheeses and foods with preservatives such as nitrates. Nitrates can be found in favorite childhood foods including hot dogs and bologna, says Fernandez. Environmental elements including glare and sun exposure can also set them in motion. So how can you tell if your child has a migraine? Pay attention to these common symptoms:

  • Abdominal discomfort
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Pain on one or both sides of the head
  • Facial pallor (paleness) during headache
  • Relief of headache pain with sleep


Responding quickly is key to treating headaches and migraines. Over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen should be taken right away. “If you wait too long, nothing is going to help,” says Dr. Fernandez. Letting your child rest in a dark room or applying cold compresses are other ways parents can help ease the pain.

How can children practice proper headache hygiene?

Establishing good habits can help keep headaches at bay. These headache hygiene measures can help:

  • Regulate your child’s sleep
  • Find ways to help them cope with stress
  • Avoid triggers
  • Eat nutritious meals consistently
  • Drink at least 8 glasses of fluid per day for adequate fluid intake
  • Exercise at least 5 times per week for 30 minutes or more. This can help with stress and depression as well.


  • When tension headaches occur most often: 9-12 Years Old
  • When migraines may start: 5-8 Years Old
  • When cluster headaches usually start: 10 Years Old

Meet Dr. Fernandez - CHOC Physician

Dr. Amanda Fernandez completed her pediatric residency at Kings County Hospital in Brooklyn, NY and her fellowship in Pediatric Neurology at the University of Miami/Jackson Memorial Medical Center. She is a member of the American Academy of Neurology, American Epilepsy Society and the Child Neurology Society.

Dr. Fernandez’s philosophy of care: “My philosophy is family-centered; looking at the child’s whole picture of health. It’s not just treating the pain or headache, but understanding the other psycho-social reasons for their pain.”

University of the East, Ramon Magsaysay Memorial Medical Center, Philippines

Pediatrics and Child Neurology

Dr. Amanda Fernandez

Headaches Tip Sheet

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. It’s important to understand how to recognize when a headache is just a passing pain and when it’s something more and requires medical attention.

Girl with headache with her hand on her forehead

Headaches in Children

In this video from American Health Journal, Dr. Mary Zupanc talks about signs and symptoms of headaches in children, what to look out for, and ways to prevent headaches from occurring. For more information, go to

It's All in Your Head

Headaches are thought to be caused by changes in chemicals, nerves, or blood vessels in the brain area. These changes send pain messages to the brain and bring on a headache.

Want to know more about how the brain works? Check out this interactive guide to the brain and nervous system.

The brain and nervous system chart

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