Identify the Cause
Headaches can develop for lots of reasons. Of course they often come along with illnesses like a cold or the flu, but some kids continue to have daily headaches for weeks after the virus goes away. The cause is usually a migraine or tension-type headache, two recurring conditions. Either kind can last from 30 minutes to days at a time.
Migraines occur when overly stimulated brain cells cause blood vessels to dilate and the membranes covering the brain become inflamed, which then sets off pain signals in the head. Tension-type headaches, on the other hand, are related to muscles tightening in the neck or scalp. In children, both types of headaches tend to cause pain on both sides of the head (whereas adults generally feel migraines on only one side), so it can be difficult to tell one kind from the other. Migraines also frequently get misdiagnosed as sinus infections. "Even if the headache is around the sinuses and a child's eyes tear up and her nose runs, it's usually not a sinus infection; it's a migraine," says Mark W. Green, M.D., director of Headache and Pain Medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York.
A tip-off that your child may be having migraines is his family history. Any relative can pass on the tendency to have migraines, although the more closely related the migraine sufferer is to your child, the greater the risk. Children who frequently get carsick or can't tolerate spinning are also prone to migraines.
Stress can be another factor. A 2009 German study, for instance, found that boys whose families quarreled often and who themselves had little free time were prone to headaches. A change in routine (such as going back to school after vacation), fluctuations in the weather, bright light, loud noises, lack of sleep, and skipping meals can all set off a migraine too. Food, though, generally isn't the culprit. Although often named as a trigger, research shows that foods like chocolate and cheese probably don't have much connection to headaches in kids.