Children seem to constantly complain of various aches and pains, so much so, it’s hard to know which ones to take seriously. Headaches, for example, are one. So when is it time to go to the doctor or simply suggest a little lie down?
Sarah Hunstead, a paediatric nurse in the emergency department for 15 years before establishing CPR Kids, has the answers.
“Mum, I’ve got a headache!’’
According to Sarah, headaches in kids is not an unusual occurrence. “Headaches are genuinely quite common and thankfully they are usually nothing to worry about, which is a good thing when you have younger kids,” she says. “Though it can be really difficult for them to actually let you know that it’s their head that’s hurting … so often you might have a child who’s perhaps a bit grumpy or perhaps is saying I’m sore, but getting down to the ‘it’s my head that hurts’ takes a little bit more probing.”
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What causes headaches in children?
While it is easy to go straight into panic mode and assume your child has a serious health issue or brain tumour, Sarah suggests that there could very well be a number of other simple explanations for a headache. A very common reason could be dehydration. “Ask your child, ‘Have you had any water today?’” says Sarah. “Or if your child isn’t verbal enough to do that yet, you have to think about what they have had to drink.”
Another possible explanation is a lack of sleep. “I don’t know about you but if I’ve slept terribly, my head feels pretty crappy the next day,” says Sarah.
Stress and neck tension can result in headaches, particularly with older children, while eye issues are certainly another consideration. “Certainly, if they’ve got eye problems,” says Sarah. “So, if your child is repeatedly complaining about a headache, maybe it’s that trigger.”
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Another very common cause for a headache is some sort of virus, like the common cold. “I don’t know about you, but I feel pretty crappy in my head when I’ve got a cold like that as well,” says Sarah. “Particularly with what’s going around at the moment with all that influenza, you can guarantee you’re going to end up with a cracker headache.”
Treating headaches in children
Sarah says if your child has a headache to definitely offer some sort of pain relief. “If your child is in pain, it shouldn’t ever stop you giving them something for pain relief,” she says. “The idea is that we’re seeking the cause as well, so no matter what the cause of your child being in pain or what their pain is, please always give them some simple analgesia.”
Sarah also suggests offering your child something to eat and drink. “Have they come home from school complaining of this headache, their lunchbox is still full in their bag, they haven’t had anything to eat, they’re a bit dehydrated,” she says. “So, eat and drink.”
Rest is also a good idea. “Maybe they actually just need to have a little lie down,” says Sarah. “Good opportunity for you to have a little lie down with them, you never know.”
The other suggestion is to completely stop watching any screens. “It’s going to exacerbate it,” says Sarah. “So, ban those screens until that headache has gone.”
What if it doesn’t go away?
While it’s important to consider strategies for managing the pain and getting rid of the headache, Sarah says it is also important to work out why your child has a headache. “That’s where your GP comes in, so particularly you need to go to the doctors if that headache isn’t relieved by simple analgesia,” she says. “If it’s happening more often or even if it’s something that’s you’re really worrying you, your guts say, ‘Hang on a sec, this is not right for my child, there’s something else going on here’ – by all means you need to see your GP.”