A toddler can also have headaches or migraines for more or less same reasons as adults. The range of causes and level of severity of headaches are often far and wide.
Little girl with headache

How Common Are Headaches In Children?

It has been quoted on webmd.com that a large chunk of 20% of adults who get headaches and migraines report that they started experiencing headaches before they turned 10, while a hefty 50% say that their headaches started before they turned 20. Headaches are more common in girls after they reach puberty, and in kids who have a history of headaches and migraines.

How Do I Know If My Toddler Has A Headache?

Once a baby turns into a toddler, he himself is able to point out his pain to you. But, when it comes to a headache, a toddler may not be able to understand and locate the area of pain as a headache is often localized to more than one area in the head and face.
A toddler, when having a headache often shows the following signs:

  1. You will find him holding his head
  2. He will exhibit low energy and less active
  3. Might show irritation to bright lights
  4. May not like to be touched or never let you hold him
  5. Cannot sleep properly
  6. Gets more irritated when exposed to loud voices
  7. Furrowed brow
  8. Poor appetite

Types Of Headaches In Toddlers And The Respective Symptoms

The most common type of headaches found among toddlers can be broadly divided into 3.

  1. Primary headaches: They are not caused by underlying disease and are neither connected to other medical conditions. They are the more common type of headaches that found among the children. Primary headaches include Tension headaches, Migraines, Cluster headaches and arise due to non-pathological conditions.
    • Tension headache:
      Don’t get surprised as this is a fairly common type of a headache among the toddlers and it is caused by several emotional and physical stressors. The pain will range from mild to moderate. This type of headache won’t get worsen by daily activities, but the child may show sensitiveness to light and noise and feel too tired.
      This type of a headache differs from a migraine as tension-type headache is not accompanied by nausea and vomiting.
      Other symptoms and causes Tension Headaches in Toddlers are:

      • Changes in child’s sleeping habits. They tend to sleep more
      • Slow onset of the pain
      • Head usually hurts on both side and occasionally the pain may extent to the back of head and neck
      • Sinus infections
      • Hungry
      • Dehydration
      • Allergies
      • Straining of eyes due to playing video-games and prolonged use of computers
    • Cluster head ache:
      This is very rarely found among the children below 12 years of age. Symptoms are:

      • Pain concentrated on one side of head usually behind the eye. The affected eye may have a droopy eyelid
      • Cluster headaches usually appear as episodes – ranging from one headache every other to many in a single day
      • Swelling at the forehead, congestion, agitation and restlessness
    • Migraine:
      Symptoms and causes of a migraine in toddler differ from that in adults.

      • Toddler with a migraine becomes temporarily unsteady and off balance
      • Become less active, as pain worsens with exertion
      • Dizziness, nausea and vomiting
      • Tends to hide to avoid intense light, sound and smell
      • Afraid to walk or move as they tend to fall down
      • Complain of abdominal pain
      • Pounding and throbbing pain. You could sense it if you lightly touch the sides of the head
  2. Secondary headaches: They are more worrisome headaches as they are caused by the problems in the brain ranging from a brain tumor, inflammatory diseases like meningitis, abnormalities of spinal fluid, to an aneurysm (excessive localized swelling of the wall of the artery) or any pathological conditions that cause high pressure on the skull.

    Secondary headaches are relatively rare among toddlers. But, when the symptoms are recognized, immediate further tests to diagnose the underlying disease and undergoing treatment accordingly is very important.
    These are some symptoms that arise with the headache which needs more tests to brush off or confirm the complicated underlying health issues.

    • Weakness in arms and legs
    • Pain worsens during a cough and sneeze
    • Sudden onset of pain
    • A headache that keeps on getting severe and consistent
    • Child cannot sleep due to high intensity pain
    • Child of very young age with a recurrent headache and changes in vision
    • When followed by epileptic seizures
    • Headaches start early in the morning with vomiting. This points to a chance of brain tumor
  3. Illness or injury related headaches: Viral infections or upper respiratory infections are the common reason for the headache found among the toddlers. Minor head injuries which can happen in school, playground or home can cause headaches.
    But when the injury is followed by severe nausea, vomiting, unconsciousness or other worrisome symptoms can occur which need immediate medical attention. Other symptoms that surfaces after an injury which points to the necessity of immediate attention are:

    • General weakness
    • Difficulty speaking
    • Difficulty standing or walking
    • Disturbance of vision
    • Neck pain or stiffness

Headache in toddlers

Diagnosing Headaches Among Kids

  • Diagnosing a headache is done by a physical exam and examining the medical history. A thorough neurological exam conducted by a child’s specialist helps him pin down the possibilities of the secondary headache
  • Brushing off the possibilities of the secondary headache through blood tests, CT scans, MRI scan etc. is a method to confirm a primary headache
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  • It is appreciable to keep a headache diary listing the frequency, how long it lasts, circumstances that brought them like particular things the child might have eaten, some health issues that accompany a headache or appear prior to a headache, etc. This will simplify the diagnosis process

How Can Headaches In Children Be Treated?

The treatment depends on the age, severity, overall health of the toddler and nature of a headache. The primary headaches can be controlled if handle with care.

  • Most of the headaches are harmless and will disappear with proper rest
  • A cold compress or icepack in forehead will help to reduce the pain and discomfort
  • Make him take rest in a quite dark room

When these remedies don’t work and the headache still persists and get worsen seek immediate medical attention.

When Should I Head To The Doctor?

When the headache is as a result of a fall or head injury, it is important to take the toddler to the doctor as soon as possible especially when the child starts to vomit. The benefit of the treatment and tests is weighed against the risk by your child’s doctor before deciding the medication and tests to undergo on toddlers. Follow the medication prescribed by your child’s doctors.
Never go for over the counter top medication. Never give the toddler the grownups medicines even in reduced dose according to your wish.

How Can Headaches In Children Be Prevented?

Primary headaches can be prevented by:

  • Spending more time with your toddler, not cutting on your busy hours
  • Practicing healthy eating habits and avoiding junk food
  • Reducing the computer and television time
  • Never letting the toddler skip a meal
  • Staying physically active
  • Let you child take enough rest and sleep properly
  • Identify, reduce and eliminate the factors causing strain
  • Keep a headache diary for children who frequently have migraine attacks. This way the parents can identify the factors triggering migraine and avoid such situations

Extend your comfort and support to your child by standing beside him throughout the time he is experiencing the discomfort of the headache as he will be confused and scared.