Your child’s pediatrician can begin treatment for headaches in children

When children have headaches or migraine, it is usually not necessary to make an appointment with a neurologist right away.

When children have headaches or migraine, it is usually not necessary to make an appointment with a neurologist right away. A pediatrician often can begin treatment for a child’s headache or migraine attack, which may speed up relief of their symptoms.

Michael K. Sowell, M.D. and Elizabeth S. Doll, M.D., pediatric neurologists at Norton Children’s Neuroscience Institute, affiliated with the UofL School of Medicine, share tips for treating a child’s headaches at home and when parents should make an appointment.

“In many cases, parents first can try to treat the headache at home,” said Dr. Sowell. “If the child’s headaches do not respond to over-the-counter options or lifestyle changes, then it’s time to make an appointment with their pediatrician.”

When to worry about headaches in children?

Norton Children’s Neuroscience Institute

If your child is experiencing headaches, check the guidance in this article. In most cases, reach out to your child’s pediatrician before making an appointment with a child neurologist.

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Dr. Doll suggests parents use the following guidance when it comes to treating their child’s headaches:

For the initial headache:

  • Parents should offer their child an over-the-counter painkiller, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen.
  • Check for and/or modify the following lifestyle factors:
  • Proper hydration and nutrition; adequate sleep and exercise; limiting stress and screen time

If the headaches persist: 

  • Make an appointment with your child’s pediatrician to begin initial lines of treatment.
  • Treatment options may include preventive medications such as blood pressure medicine, antidepressants or anti-seizure medications.
  • Use “SNOOP” to see if your child should see a neurologist or get an MRI.
  • The American Headache Society’s “SNOOP” mnemonic helps outline the red flags and warning signs for headaches that would suggest further investigation and/or diagnostic imaging:
  • SYSTEMIC SYMPTOMS: The child’s symptoms include fever or weight loss. OR SECONDARY RISK FACTORS: The child is immunocompromised due to existing illness or disease.
  • NEUROLOGIC SYMPTOMS: Abnormal signs may include confusion, impaired alertness/consciousness or personality changes.
  • ONSET: The headache is sudden, abrupt, or split-second.
  • OLDER: New onset of headaches in middle age (not applicable in children).
  • PREVIOUS HEADACHE HISTORY: This is the first, extremely painful headache or it is different in frequency, severity or symptoms of previous headaches.