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Headache in Children: Care Instructions

Your Care Instructions

Headaches have many possible causes. Most headaches are not a sign of a more serious problem, and they will get better on their own. Home treatment may help your child feel better soon.

If your child's headaches continue, get worse, or occur along with new symptoms, your child may need more testing and treatment. Watch for changes in your child's pain and other symptoms. These may be signs of a more serious problem.

The doctor has checked your child carefully, but problems can develop later. If you notice any problems or new symptoms, get medical treatment right away.

Follow-up care is a key part of your child's treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if your child is having problems. It's also a good idea to know your child's test results and keep a list of the medicines your child takes.

How can you care for your child at home?

  • Have your child rest in a quiet, dark room until the headache is gone. It is best for your child to close his or her eyes and try to relax or go to sleep. Tell your child not to watch TV or read.
  • Put a cold, moist cloth or cold pack on the painful area for 10 to 20 minutes at a time. Put a thin cloth between the cold pack and your child's skin.
  • Heat can help relax your child's muscles. Place a warm, moist towel on tight shoulder and neck muscles.
  • Gently massage your child's neck and shoulders.
  • Be safe with medicines. Give pain medicines exactly as directed.
    • If the doctor gave your child a prescription medicine for pain, give it as prescribed.
    • If your child is not taking a prescription pain medicine, ask your doctor if your child can take an over-the-counter medicine.
  • Be careful not to give your child pain medicine more often than the instructions allow, because this can cause worse or more frequent headaches when the medicine wears off.
  • Do not ignore new symptoms that occur with a headache, such as a fever, weakness or numbness, vision changes, vomiting (especially if it happens in the morning), or confusion. These may be signs of a more serious problem.

To prevent headaches

  • If your child gets frequent headaches, keep a headache diary so you can figure out what triggers your child's headaches. Avoiding triggers may help prevent headaches. Record when each headache began, how long it lasted, and what the pain was like (throbbing, aching, stabbing, or dull). Write down any other symptoms your child had with the headache, such as nausea, flashing lights or dark spots, or sensitivity to bright light or loud noise. List anything that might have triggered the headache, such as certain foods (chocolate or cheese) or odours, smoke, bright light, stress, or lack of sleep. If your child is a girl, note if the headache occurred near her period.
  • Find healthy ways to help your child manage stress. Do not let your child's schedule get too busy or filled with stressful events.
  • Encourage your child to get plenty of exercise, without overdoing it.
  • Make sure that your child gets plenty of sleep and keeps a regular sleep schedule. Most children need to sleep 8 to 10 hours each night.
  • Make sure that your child does not skip meals. Provide regular, healthy meals.
  • Limit the amount of time your child spends in front of the TV and computer.
  • Keep your child away from smoke. Do not smoke or let anyone else smoke around your child or in your house.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think your child may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • Your child seems very sick or is hard to wake up.

Call your doctor or nurse advice line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Your child's headache gets much worse.
  • Your child has new symptoms, such as fever, vomiting, or a stiff neck.
  • Your child has tingling, weakness, or numbness in any part of the body.

Watch closely for changes in your child's health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse advice line if:

  • Your child does not get better as expected.

Where can you learn more?

Go to

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Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.