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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:
Fatty or fried foods
Foods with MSG
Lack of exercise
Listening to loud music
Long car or bus ride
Medicine side effects
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:
Drinking or peeing a lot
Neck pain or stiffness
Seeing bright flashes, jagged lines or spots
Trouble walking or standing
Unable to go to school
Unable to do regular activities
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:
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:
Lay down in a quiet, dark room
Use a cool cloth on their forehead
To prevent headaches, have your child:
Eat on a regular schedule
Take medicines to prevent or stop migraines
Use mind-body biofeedback
Use stress relief and relaxation exercises
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.
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.