Adults and children alike are affected by migraine and tension-type headaches. For kids with recurring or chronic headaches, they may be forced to miss school or other activities.
“Headaches are classified into 2 main categories: primary and secondary headache disorders. The vast majority are primary headaches, which includes migraine, tension, cluster and chronic daily headaches,” said pediatric neurologist and headache specialist Cristina Victorio, director of Akron Children’s headache program. “Secondary headaches are caused by something else, whether it’s an infection, tumor or a side effect from medication.”
Migraine is the most common primary headache disorder seen in Akron Children’s program due to its disabling and recurrent nature. One out of 11 children can have migraines and they can affect children as young as 3 years. They tend to run in families.
Mirgraine symptoms include:
- sensitivity to light
Some may also experience a warning sign (aura), such as seeing spots, stars, flashing lights or zigzag lines.
Most children and teens suffer from tension headaches due to stress. Stress causes prolonged tension and contraction of the head and neck muscles that leads to headache.
“Between school, sports and other activities, many kids have a full plate,” Dr. Victorio said. “They struggle managing their busy lives at this early age.”
Although typically less intense than migraines, tension headaches may require medical attention if they become more frequent or chronic.
Headaches are considered chronic daily headaches when they occur more than 15 days per month, last for at least 4 hours and occur for 3 or more months. Chronic daily headaches can be debilitating, causing a teen to retreat from normal daily activities.
There are 4 subtypes of chronic daily headaches: chronic migraine, chronic tension headache, new daily persistent headache and hemicrania continua.
“In order to be classified as chronic migraine, 8 out of the 15 headaches a month should have migraine features,” said Dr. Victorio. “Stressful life events, anxiety, depression, excessive use of analgesics, obesity and head injury are risk factors for chronic migraine.”
School and family issues, including bullying, learning difficulties, high academic expectations and family conflicts may all contribute to chronic daily headaches.
A healthy lifestyle is the mainstay of treatment for headaches. This includes:
- Getting 8 to 10 hours of sleep every night
- Not skipping meals, especially breakfast
- Getting moderate amounts of daily exercise
- Drinking plenty of fluids
- Avoiding certain triggers such as caffeine, aged cheese, processed meats, MSG and the artificial sweetener Aspartame
- Reducing eyestrain caused by too much screen time
- Avoiding over-the-counter pain relievers, which after daily use will cause more pain, known as rebound headaches
- Reducing stress and a busy life
If frequent headaches limit your teen’s daily activities, it’s time to seek treatment. Dr. Victorio also recommends seeing the doctor if your teen:
- Has a first severe headache
- Is awakened by a headache
- Has a headache with other symptoms, such as difficulty walking or talking or other signs of illness