Headaches in children are common. They are usually mild and only happen from time to time.
- There are plenty of things you can do to help your child to feel better such as making sure they drink plenty of water, taking regular exercise and ensuring they are sleeping well.
- Stress can often play a part in children’s headaches, especially the older they get so make sure you have a good chat about what is going on in their life.
- Sometimes headaches can be a sign of something more worrying. Please see the table below for some of this things to look out for.
Check if your child has any red symptoms:
- Becomes very sleepy with their headache or is difficult to wake.
- Headache causing confusion, disorientation or change in behaviour.
- Headache is waking them from sleep.
- Headache is worse on coughing or straining.
- New, persistent blurring of their vision, double vision, new squint or abnormal eye movements.
- New weakness / loss of balance / coordination problems / abnormal head posture or walking difficulties.
- Vomiting overnight or persistent daytime vomiting related to headache.
Actions to take if your child has any red symptoms
- Your child may require emergency treatment.
- You should call 999 or take them to your NEAREST Emergency Department where they can be assessed.
If there are no red symptoms, check if your child has any amber symptoms:
- Headache is unresponsive to initial advice / treatment given by your doctor or nurse.
- Your child needs paracetamol or ibuprofen more than three times a week.
- Headache is impacting on school attendance.
Options if your child has any amber symptoms
Your child does not need to be taken to the Emergency Department immediately, but you should seek medical advice today.
- ring your GP surgery during their usual opening hours
- contact the out of hours GP if the surgery is closed
If symptoms continue for four hours or more and you have not been able to speak to your GP or the out of hours GP, consider going to your nearest Emergency Department.
If your child develops any of the red symptoms above, go to your nearest Emergency Department.
If no red or amber symptoms are present:
- your child does not seem to have any symptoms of serious illness or injury
- you can get general advice on the NI Direct website or from your local pharmacy
If your child develops any of the red or amber symptoms above, follow the advice in these sections.
How you can help manage your child’s headache at home
- Start a headache diary – record date, time, triggers, severity any other associated symptoms.
- Ensure your child is drinking a good amount of fluid (no caffeine / fizzy drinks).
- Ensure your child is eating regular meals and doesn’t skip meals.
- Ensure your child has is getting good sleep.
- Ensure your child is having regular exercise.
- Consider limiting screen time (TV, computer or video games).
- Simple analgesia paracetamol or ibuprofen can be given, but less than three times a week.
- Book your child an eye test with your local optician.
- If it is non-urgent, speak to your local pharmacist or health visitor.
- Alternatively, you can contact your GP practice and a qualified member of the clinical team will check whether your child needs to be seen urgently. Out of hours GP details are available here.
- You should only call 999 or go your nearest Emergency Department in critical or life-threatening situations.
- See our section: How does the Children’s Emergency Department Work?