Symptoms and Treatments for Headaches
For most children, the sun's glare, warmer weather, increased physical activity and schedule changes are simply part of summer's appeal. Ironically, the very factors associated with the year's most carefree season also can trigger the headache response. At what point should parents be concerned that their child's headache is more than just a headache?
"Although most headaches are not cause for worry, more serious symptoms include weakness, double vision, stiff neck, fever, vomiting, coordination problems, unusual sleepiness or lethargy," says Dr. Marvin Fishman, chief of neurology service at Texas Children's Hospital and director of the section of child neurology at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas. "If the headache is severe, if the child has never experienced a similar headache or if the headache doesn't go away after a day or two, parents should contact a doctor because any of these symptoms could be warning signals of a neurological problem."
A migraine headache is often accompanied by the release of serotonin, which can cause an inflammation around the blood vessels going to the brain. "For moderate migraine headaches, there's a new prescription class of drugs called triptans, which are available for older children," says Dr. Fishman. "Triptans combat the process of neurogenic inflammation that causes the pain in migraines."
Because stress and fatigue can lead to headaches, giving medication at the first sign of the headache and encouraging the child to unwind and get a good night's sleep may relieve the pain. "However, parents should be careful not to always count on medication as a quick fix," says Dr. Fishman. "If headaches frequently occur and medications are given too frequently, they can actually cause analgesic-abuse headaches."
Another type of headache especially prevalent this time of year is spurred by allergies, resulting in swollen sinuses. These headaches require treatment with antihisthiamines, decongestants or inhaled anti-inflammatory nasal steroids. Over-the-counter saline spray is sometimes prescribed to alleviate dryness.
Normal Headache Triggers
- Sun's glare
- Hot weather
- Increased physical activity
- Schedule changes
- Allergies or hayfever
Headache Warning Signs
- Severe pain
- First episode of such a headache
- Duration of longer than a day or two
- Occurs in combination with: weakness, double vision, stiff neck, vomiting, coordination problems and/or unusual sleepiness or lethargy