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What causes headaches in children?

Answered on 11th January 2016
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Headaches and migraines can affect children of all ages. They may occur either on their own or as a symptom of another condition.

With most headaches the cause is clear, such as a bump on the head or a common cold. A headache can also be a symptom of a range of illnesses and infections such as sinusitis (an inflammation of the sinuses), otitis (ear infection) and pharyngitis (an inflammation or infection of the throat).

A child’s tendency to suffer migraines is often hereditary. If both parents have a history of migraines, there is a 60% chance that the child will also develop them. If one parent has a history of migraines, the risk of their child having a migraine drops to around 30%.

As well as hereditary factors, it is also possible to identify clear ‘trigger factors’ that may result in your child developing a migraine. These include:

  • Dehydration
  • Particular food and drinks (including excessive caffeine consumption, foods with lots of additives, citrus fruits and chocolate)
  • Stress and anxiety
  • Watching television or playing computers excessively

Food temperature (both hot and cold) is also a trigger factor for some children, and too much physical activity or sunshine has also been shown to be a potential cause of migraines. Eyestrain, and neck or back strain as a result of poor posture, are known triggers of tension headaches.

The exact cause of migraines remains unknown. It is thought that migraines happen as a result of changes in chemicals in the brain, such as serotonin. Chemical changes are responsible for the contraction of blood vessels in the brain, as well as blood vessel dilation, which are thought to cause headaches and migraines.

The difficulty in diagnosing headaches in younger children is an understandable cause of parental anxiety. However, more often than not, headaches in children are little to worry about.


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