Headaches are a common condition, even in childhood

But if your child’s headaches become severe, make an appointment. The UW Health Kids Neurology Headache Clinic provides the support you need to give your child relief. We offer treatments and education for children and teens living with painful headaches.

Types and causes

What triggers migraine and tension headaches?

Learn how certain activities, foods and lifestyles can trigger your child’s headaches.

Headaches cause pain in and around the eyes, face and head. Migraine and tension headaches often impact children. A tension headache feels like a constant, dull, squeezing ache.

A migraine brings pounding, throbbing pain on one or both sides of the head. Your child might feel dizzy or nauseous and see spots. Light, smells and sounds can make the pain worse.

A variety of triggers can create headaches, and the triggers causing your child’s headaches are unique to them. Your child might wake up with a headache, or they might have specific triggers, including:

  • Allergies

  • Anxiety  

  • Caffeine

  • Dehydration

  • Fatty or fried foods

  • Foods with MSG

  • Head injury

  • Infections

  • Lack of exercise

  • Listening to loud music

  • Long car or bus ride

  • Medicine side effects 

  • Poor sleep

  • Screen time

  • Skipping meals

  • Smoking

  • Stress

  • Strong odors

  • Vision problems

Symptoms and diagnosis

Signs and symptoms of severe headaches

Understand your child’s headaches to get them the right care.

Headaches cause many symptoms. General pain, a flushed face and throwing up are common signs. Severe headaches differ from regular headaches; they occur more frequently and don’t go away easily.

Severe headache symptoms can include:

  • Blurred vision

  • Clumsiness

  • Drinking or peeing a lot

  • Fever

  • Neck pain or stiffness

  • Personality changes

  • Reduced alertness

  • Seeing bright flashes, jagged lines or spots

  • Seizures

  • Skin rash

  • Trouble speaking

  • Trouble walking or standing

  • Unable to go to school 

  • Unable to do regular activities

  • Vomiting

  • Weakness

How we diagnose headaches

Our headache team talks with you and your child. We discuss how the headache feels and what happens when your child gets a headache. Young children often cannot fully explain their pain or symptoms, so we talk to the whole family. 

To diagnose your child’s headaches, the doctor:

  • Completes a physical exam

  • Reviews your child’s medical history

  • Reviews your family medical history

  • Might order diagnostic tests, such as:

    • Blood tests

    • Imaging tests (CT or MRI scans)

Your doctor also could ask you to keep a pain log or a headache diary for your child. This list helps you both identify triggers and understand what causes the headaches.

Treatments and research

How we treat severe headaches

The right treatments and routines can prevent and manage your child’s headaches.

You can take many steps to reduce your child’s headache symptoms even before visiting a doctor. Once you meet our UW Health Kids specialists, your child’s care team will create a specific treatment plan to relieve and prevent future headaches. 

To relieve headaches at home, your child should:

  • Breathe deeply

  • Lay down in a quiet, dark room

  • Use a cool cloth on their forehead

To prevent headaches, have your child:

  • Avoid triggers

  • Eat on a regular schedule

  • Stay hydrated 

  • Take medicines to prevent or stop migraines

  • Use mind-body biofeedback

  • Use stress relief and relaxation exercises

Smiling child with sign reading UW Health Kids
UW Health Kids
Our pediatric experts have served the special needs of children for more than 100 years. We focus on each child’s unique needs and offer social and emotional support to help you and your child face even the most complex condition. Our long history includes the creation of medical advances that save lives around the world. Together, we get your child back to health and enjoying being a kid.

Meet our team

Specialty pediatric headache care

The UW Health Kids pediatric headache team includes experts in migraines, neurology and pain management.

Our providers


Headache care close to you

We offer pediatric headache care at clinics in Madison, Wis., and Rockford, Ill.

Patient support services

Information and support for you and your child

Learn how you can get support, manage and prevent your child’s headaches.

Headache management and coping group

Children and their families can learn strategies and skills to cope with the challenges of headache pain. We meet online most Thursdays, from 3-4:30 p.m. For information or to register, email Michele Johnson or call (608) 890-6464.