Institute for Brain Protection Services

Headaches in Children

We provide comprehensive therapeutic management of different types of headaches in children and adolescents.

Headaches, or pain in the head or face, are a common childhood complaint. Although most headaches are not life-threatening, they can be disabling and impactful to a child’s productivity and quality of life.

If headaches are impacting your child’s performance in school, extracurricular activities or normal everyday tasks, a comprehensive approach to management may be beneficial.

Types of headaches

There are many different types of headaches. Primary headaches are those that are not caused by any other underlying disease, but rather are caused by problems with the pain-sensitive pathways and networks in the head. Secondary headaches are less common and are related to or caused by other medical conditions of the head or other organ systems.

Migraine, tension and cluster headaches are the most common types of primary headaches.


Migraine headaches are characterized by throbbing or pounding pain on one or both sides of the head.

Other symptoms of migraine can include:

  • Sensitivity to light or sound
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Discomfort in the stomach/abdomen
  • Dizziness, decrease level of energy, poor focusing

Some children may also have a sense of flashing lights, or change in vision or sense of smell before a migraine sets in.

Tension-Type Headache

Tension-type headaches are characterized by pressure, tightening pain on both sides of the head, as well as pain on the back part of the head or neck.

Other symptoms of tension-type headaches can include:

  • Mild to moderate pain
  • Duration of minutes to days
  • Can be triggered by stress

Cluster Headache

Cluster headaches are less common than migraine headaches or tension-type headaches. They are described as severe or very severe episodes of pain that can last 15 minutes to 3 hours.

Symptoms of cluster headaches can include:

  • Severe pain on one side of the head, often behind one eye
  • The affected eye may appear to have a droopy lid and small pupil, with redness and swelling of the eyelid, runny nose and increased sweating
  • Associated with a sensation of restlessness

What You Can Expect

During your child’s visit, you will meet with a pediatric neurologist who has special training in treating headaches. Together you will:

  • Review your child’s medical history
  • Discuss symptoms and factors that may be contributing to headaches
  • Talk about possible treatment options

It may be helpful to start a headache journal before your child’s appointment. Record the day and time that the headache occurs, how long it lasts and where it is on the pain scale. If possible, it may also be useful to record any activities happening at that time and recent food or drink.

Often, headache history is enough to start developing a treatment plan. Sometimes other screening tests, such as a blood tests or neuroimaging, may be necessary. Typically, these checks can be completed at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital.

Treatment for Headaches

Our approach to treatment looks at all aspects of your child’s needs and may involve modifications to daily habits and/or medication. Your child may also meet with a rehabilitative medicine specialist or a therapist to solve any underlying health issue that may be contributing to the headaches.

The comprehensive management of headache disorders includes the incorporation of medications and non-medication therapies. Your doctor will provide you with education about every option that is available and indicated to help your child.

Headache Management at Home

In addition to a treatment plan from your child’s doctor, there are steps families can take to help prevent or lessen the severity of their child’s headaches.
These include:

  • Eating healthy foods. Children should eat three meals and three healthy snacks every day.
  • Drinking enough water. Your child should drink at least 10 ounces of water for every 30 pounds of their weight every day.
  • Getting enough sleep. Children should sleep between 8-12 hours per day.
  • Exercising at least 60 minutes per day, five days a week.
  • Limiting screen time. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends parents place consistent limits on screen time for children and teens ages 5-18.
  • Addressing stress. Cognitive behavioral therapy, along with other modes of therapy may help reduce stress, anxiety and other symptoms that can trigger or worsen your child’s headaches.

Talk to your child’s doctor if he or she has more than one headache per week, or if the headaches are impacting your child’s ability to function in school or at home.

Call 911 or take your child to the nearest Emergency Center if they develop a new, sudden onset, severe headache with associated neurological deficits (such as altered level of consciousness, visual impairment, language deficit, sensory deficit, motor deficit, coordination/balance deficit and/or gait deficit).

Contact Us

For more information or to make an appointment, please give us a call at the phone number below. You can also use our online contact form, and a member of our team will follow up with you to assist with your questions.