Headaches, while worrisome to parents, can be a normal part of childhood. Some children will never experience a headache. Others will complain almost daily. There are two major types of headaches: tension-type and migraine-type.
These usually occur more frequently than migraine-type and have a somewhat predictable pattern (every afternoon, after reading for long periods, etc.). Tension- type headaches can range from mild, not interfering with daily activities, to severe, requiring one to have to lay down and rest. These headaches usually come on somewhat gradually and are not typically associated with vomiting (although nausea is not uncommon).
These typically occur less frequently, once a month to a couple of times per year. Migraine-type headaches usually come on quickly and suddenly and are not as predictable. They are often severe enough to require a child to lay down in a dark room and even need to sleep before the headache gets better. Migraine headaches are commonly associated with nausea or vomiting. Sometimes, children experience an “aura” that precedes a migraine-type headache. Auras can be visual (seeing unusual colors or spots) or olfactory (smelling things like burnt toast or other smells).
Most children respond well to over-the-counter pain relievers for both tension-type and migraine-type headaches. Tylenol or Ibuprofen are good to keep on hand. It is very important to treat the headache as soon as the child thinks a headache is starting. This offers the best chance that the pain reliever will help.