Put an End to Pain
If your child is having headaches more than once a week or if his headaches are causing him to miss school or playdates, schedule an appointment with your pediatrician. She may decide to refer you to a neurologist or a headache specialist. You should also keep a headache diary, as Lewis did, so you're not relying on memory when you talk to your doctor. "Write down what the headaches are like -- does your child have nausea or vomiting? -- and whether they're increasing or are associated with things like weekends or breaks from school," suggests Ann Pakalnis, M.D., director of the Headache Clinic at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. Whatever type of headache your child has, you can lessen the pain with these quick steps.
Give her ibuprofen (which in general has been shown to be more effective than acetaminophen) as soon as the pain begins. Never give aspirin to kids under age 15 because it can lead to Reye's syndrome, a life-threatening disease that affects the liver and brain. Some children with migraines can feel a headache coming on. If your child has an early warning sign -- she may, for instance, see lights or lines (called an aura), feel tingling in the arms or face, or have a stomachache -- don't wait for the headache to start. Have her take the ibuprofen immediately. But avoid giving it more often than three times a week, because overuse of headache medication can make the pain worse.
Serve eight ounces of a sports drink. "Part of what happens during a migraine is the blood vessels dilate and leak," explains Dr. Hershey. "The sugar in these drinks helps the salt and water get absorbed, and the salt helps keep the water inside the blood vessels." You can also serve water or juice, or even give your child a few sips of cola, which may help because caffeine constricts the blood vessels.
Encourage her to nap in a cool, dark, quiet place. "A nap doesn't always help when you get older, but in kids it works like a charm," says Dr. Green.
If he doesn't sleep, distract him from the pain with toys, games, or books. Unless he's having a migraine attack, don't keep your school-age child home from school because it sets up a bad pattern. "This can start a cycle where a child misses school, then it becomes more stressful to return and that leads to more headaches," says Dr. Lebel.
Try to take away the fear. Tell your preschooler, "I know what's happening to your head, and I don't want you to worry. I know how to fix it." Reassure an older child by reminding him that treatments for his headaches have worked before, and they'll work again.
When headaches are frequent and disabling, or ibuprofen doesn't work, your doctor may prescribe headache medication. Most children don't experience the warning signs of a migraine, but if they do, drugs called triptans can often stop the attack. The FDA has not approved the use of most triptans in children, but physicians do regularly prescribe them as needed. Certain other drugs, like calcium channel blockers and cyproheptadine, are given to children too.