Headaches In Toddlers – Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis & Treatment

Written by Chhandita Chakravarty • 

With a toddler at home, life can be a constant battle with anxiety and worry. As a parent, you’ll experience an all-enveloping need to keep your child safe. Unfortunately, you cannot keep all the bad stuff away forever!

The reality of life is that children fall ill. Fever, runny nose, cough, rashes – all these have their set of problems. But somehow, we don’t associate toddlers with headaches! When was the last time you suspected that your little one had a headache?

We don’t think that kids in their toddlerhood can suffer from headaches, but they do! Surprised? Don’t be! Headaches are as common among children as they are among the adults in the population. So, let us tell you more about headaches in toddlers  because knowledge is power!

Causes Of Headaches In Toddlers:

When you have a headache, you can shrug it off as an effect of tension. But what about toddlers? Is your toddler complaining of headache? Then, what causes headaches in toddlers?

Here are some of the more common causes among the extremely young:

1. Common Cold:

The cold is the leading cause of headaches among toddlers. Just like adults, the virus can lead to blocked nose and headache among children.

2. Dehydration:

Another common cause of headaches for toddlers is dehydration. It may seem like your child is drinking enough fluids, but it doesn’t take long for a little one’s body to become dehydrated.

3. Ear Infection:

If you were to ask us about the most common health issues among young kids, we’d have to say ear infections! In many cases, an ear infection is what causes your child’s headache.

[ Read: Ear Infections In Toddlers ]

4. Teething:

Is your toddler teething? That can be the cause or feel like a headache too! Remember, toddlers are not very vocal and cannot differentiate between pain in the head and pain in the mouth as yet.

5. Anxiety and Stress:

Yes, your toddler can be stressed! A change in the regular schedule, a change in caregiver, a change in the house, and even marital discord between the parents – all of these can be the reason for stress in your toddler and can cause a headache.

6. Infections:

In rare cases, a headache can indicate a serious underlying health conditions. Many infections, like meningitis, can lead to headaches too.

7. Injury:

Toddlers fall all the time. But sometimes, a fall can also lead to a headache.

8. Genetics:

Headaches, especially migraines, are genetic in nature. So, if you or your partner have a history of headaches, the chances are high that your child will experience a few too!

[ Read: Migraine In Toddlers ]

9. Diet:

Does your child’s diet consist of nitrates? Well, that can be causing your toddler a few headaches. Nitrates, found in numerous food preservatives, as well as MSG and caffeine too, can cause headaches.

10. Tumors:

Some toddlers may also develop headaches due to brain tumors. But this is extremely rare, so don’t panic!

[ Read: Brain Tumors In Toddlers ]

Symptoms Of Headaches In Toddlers:

So, how do you find out if your toddler has a headache, especially if he doesn’t have the language skills to tell you where it hurts? Well, you’ll need to put on your detective hat for this one!

Some of the symptoms of toddler headaches include:

  • Frowning
  • Grimacing
  • Eye squinting
  • Pointing to the head
  • Holding the head
  • Irritation
  • Avoiding bright light and loud noise
  • Lack of appetite
  • Excessively sleepy
  • No interest in playing
  • Restlessness
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Abdominal pain

Diagnosing Headaches In Toddlers:

Most cases of headaches in toddlers can be treated right at home. But in some instances, a trip the doctor’s clinic and testing may become a necessity.

Your doctor may prescribe a few tests to determine the exact cause of your little one’s discomfort. Some of the diagnostic tools your toddler may undergo can include:

1. Physical Exam:

The first thing your doctor will do is give your baby a physical exam, including checking your toddler’s height, weight, head circumference, blood pressure and pulse. Your doctor will also take a look at your toddler’s shoulders, spine, eyes, and neck.

2. Neurological Exam:

Another thing that your doctor will check is your child’s neurological wellness, including coordination and movement.

3. CT Scan:

A CT scan may seem scary but is a harmless diagnostic tool. Your doctor may use a CT scan to unearth the real cause of your baby’s headache. It can help diagnose tumors, infections, and other internal causes of headaches.

4. MRI:

Another valuable tool that can help with a diagnosis is an MRI.

5. Spinal Tap:

In very rare cases, your doctor may ask you to get a spinal tap done for your toddler. A spinal tap can help diagnose bacterial or viral meningitis.

Treating Headaches In Toddlers:

Once your doctor knows the real cause of your toddler’s headache, he will formulate a treatment plan.

Some of the treatment options that your doctor may explore includes:

1. Medication:

Over the counter pain medications like Acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) or Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) can help manage your toddler’s headaches. But do not give your toddler aspirin in any situation. Aspirin can cause Reye’s symptoms in young children. If your toddler is suffering from a headache due to some underlying health condition, treating that condition will automatically provide relief from headaches too.

2. Rest:

Sometimes, all a headache needs is some sleep! So, help your toddler beat a headache by helping him relax. Take him to his room. Make sure the room is dark and quiet. With some rest and sleep, your toddler should be as good as new!

3. Cool and Wet Compress:

Another great way to treat a headache in toddlers is by using cool compresses. Just place a cool and wet cloth on your child’s forehead while he rests. But if your child has a cold, the trick may backfire.

4. Healthy Food:

Offer your toddler healthy snack options like some fruits, crackers (whole grains), or low-fat cheese. Your toddler may not feel hungry when he has a headache, but an empty tummy will only worsen his situation.

[ Read: Healthy Foods For Toddlers ]

5. Fluids:

Make sure your baby is properly hydrated. Offer him healthy fluids at regular intervals. You can give him breast milk, formula, juice, whole milk, etc.

6. Avoid Stimulation:

No matter how bored your toddler feels, keep him away from TV and computer when he has a headache.

7. Massage:

You can also try to massage your toddler’s forehead, back, and neck gently to ease the pain.

8. Avoid Caffeine:

When your toddler has a headache, avoid giving him food rich in caffeine like chocolate.

9. Protect From Smoke:

Sometimes, a strong odor or smoke too can trigger a headache. So, keep your toddler away from such conditions.

10. Emotional Security:

If your toddler’s headache is due to emotional causes, try to provide him comfort. Hug him often, stick to a schedule and let him know you are around.

When To See A Doctor?

Headaches are common among adults, and most cases do not need medical intervention. But should you rush to the physician at the first sign of a headache in your toddler?

Most cases of headaches, even among little kids, are harmless. But in some instances, a trip to the doctor can become important.

Consult your doctor if:

  • Your child is unable to fall asleep because of a headache
  • A headache wakes your kid up from sleep
  • A headache becomes more painful or recurrent
  • You notice a change in your child’s personality
  • A headache follows head trauma or injury
  • A headache is accompanied by persistent vomiting
  • Your toddler experiences other symptoms like fever and neck stiffness

Seeing your toddler in pain is not easy, we understand that! But you don’t need to lose sleep over every health issues that your baby develops. Most cases of headaches in toddlers are harmless. In any case, when your baby is not feeling well, he needs you to be at your sharpest!

So, bury your panic and help your baby heal. Take care!

How do you deal with headaches in children? Do you have a secret weapon? Do tell us here.

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