Recurring headaches are common in both children and adults. Headaches, although uncomfortable and annoying, are most often transient and harmless on the physical level. Usually headaches are a bodily response to emotional stress; once the stress is properly addressed, the headaches will decrease or even disappear. Sometimes headaches are caused by external physical factors (see examples below). Of course, there are also rare occasions when headaches are an actual sign of disease or injury. It always pays to be cautious when kids complain about frequent pain of any kind. A trip to the doctor can not only help rule out health issues but can also provide information on controlling the frequency, duration and intensity of headaches and migraines. Similarly, a trip to a naturopath, osteopath, or cranial sacral specialist may be able to provide assessment and treatment interventions that can help.
If your child has frequent headaches consider the following tips:
Life is actually not a bowl of cherries for children – it is stressful! Kids and teens have social challenges, academic problems, sibling issues, issues with their parents, step parents, other family, and many other issues as well. They feel pressure and stress just like adults do. Stress can cause many bodily symptoms, including stomach aches, anxiety, depression, illness and of course, headaches. If your child tends to complain about frequent headaches, try to address stress factors first. Perhaps she has too much on her plate. More rest, improved nutrition, increased support and a more balanced schedule will usually help reduce anyone’s stress-related headaches. Or, perhaps there is something going on in your child’s life that is overwhelming, frightening or otherwise disturbing. Try asking your child about this possibility. If you use Emotional Coaching (naming and accepting feelings without offering education, judgment or criticism of any kind), your child may open up to you. Sometimes just talking things through can relieve significant amounts of stress. Also teach your child that everyone needs to talk to someone – having a friend, a school counselor, a parent or a professional to talk to can really keep stress in its place and prevent it from wreaking physical or emotional havoc.
If you do suspect that stress is the culprit behind the headaches, you might also teach your child specific stress-management self-help strategies. HeartMath is a simple, child-friendly program for stress reduction that helps reduce stress and manage pain. Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) is another one that kids and teen can use to help calm upset and troubled emotions. There are many books on emotional regulation and stress-management geared specifically to children and teens – bring them home from the library; your kids will have a chance to learn strategies for releasing stressful feelings. This is especially important for those kids who just don’t “open up” – the exact kids who are most prone to physical manifestations of stress.
Stress that doesn’t completely resolve with self-help home measures is best addressed by a mental health professional.
Headaches, especially those symptomized by a throbbing pain near the nape, can be a sign that a child is experiencing vision problems. The strain of reading the blackboard when one’s vision is less than 20/20 can cause frequent headaches. The same goes with spending long periods in front of TV screens and computer monitors. In all cases of regular and frequent headaches, a trip to an ophthalmologist is recommended. Very often, a child doesn’t realize that he or she is not seeing properly or has other eye-related issues.
Missing meals can cause a cascade of chemical effects leading to headaches. For instance, skipping a meal lowers blood sugar, which in turn increases blood pressure which can cause headaches. Dehydration is also a possible cause of frequent headaches in children. Not having enough fluids in the body can cause the constriction of tissues in the brain and the spinal cord, leading to headaches.
In today’s age of iPods and mp3 players, kids’ ears often get abused. In fact, a very recent study released by BMC Neurology has revealed that cranking up the music for even just an hour or two is associated with pounding headaches among teenagers. (In addition, long-term exposure to loud music using earphones can result into tinnitus, the perception of sound, e.g. ringing or buzzing, when none exists.)
Headaches have been known to be associated with various viral infections. This is because issues with the nasal pathway as well as the throat can cause constrictions in the blood vessels in our head. When the infection is treated, the headache disappears. Fortunately, bed rest and a diet rich in fluids and vitamin C can usually address symptoms associated with the common cold, cough or flu. There are also many over-the-counter medications, herbal products, essential oils and other medical and natural interventions that address the whole umbrella of symptoms associated with viral infections.
Sensitivities and Allergies
If your child’s headache tend to occur after exposure to a particular food, pollutant or situation, then consider the possibility of an allergy or sensitivity-related headache. Eating foods rich in soy sauce, for example, has been known to trigger mild to severe migraine in some children. However, any food sensitivity can trigger frequent headaches and a child may be sensitive to any food group. For instance, many children have been found to be sensitive to wheat, gluten, milk, sugar and/or eggs. In order to rule out allergies and sensitivities, consult an immunologist or an allergy specialist. Many naturopathic practitioners also test for food insensitivities.
A Final Thought
It is not only unpleasant, but it is also uncomfortable and draining to suffer from routine headaches. You may have to use a multifaceted assessment and treatment process in your attempts to relieve your child’s pain. However, when people are willing to pursue all avenues, they almost always find a measure of relief from pain.