Ask the Expert: Pediatric Headaches

Pediatric headache specialist Christopher Oakley answers common questions about causes, symptoms, remedies and treatment

Published in Spring 2017

Headaches are a common reason children seek medical care. Christopher Oakley, M.D., director of Johns Hopkins Pediatric Headache Center, answers some common questions about the causes, symptoms, remedies and treatment of pediatric headaches.

What causes headaches in children?

Any child can develop headaches. Although the exact cause is unknown, there are risk factors that make headaches more likely: brain chemistry, genetics, ethnic background, gender, chronic neurologic or psychiatric concerns, chronic medical illness, head trauma and lifestyle.

What are the symptoms of pediatric headaches?

Pediatric headache symptoms vary based on the type of headache. The majority of headaches in children are either a general headache, tension-type headache, migraine or post-traumatic headache. Head or neck pain may be accompanied by light or sound sensitivity, nausea, vomiting, dizziness or vertigo. Other symptoms may include facial flushing, warmth, sweating, tearing, pupil changes, runny nose or increased saliva.

When should a parent seek medical attention?

A parent should seek medical attention whenever they are concerned about their child’s headaches. A parent’s intuition is usually right, even if it turns out that there is no major underlying problem. Contact a doctor immediately if your child experiences new or extreme headaches, a rapid progression of headaches and symptoms (especially vomiting), overnight headaches that awaken the child, neurological changes, or if the headaches develop at a very young age.

What are some remedies to treat pediatric headaches?

The most effective treatment is a multi-tier approach beginning with simple lifestyle adjustments such as getting good sleep, staying hydrated, eating healthy and exercising. These steps can be accompanied by alternative therapies such as cognitive behavior therapy, biofeedback, physical therapy and acupuncture. Additionally, daily preventive vitamins and supplements may be recommended. Daily prescriptions of antidepressants, antiepileptics, antihistamines and antihypertensives may also be considered, but used with caution.

To request an appointment with Dr. Oakley, call 410-955-4259.