by Sanjai Rao, DO

Child neurologist and board-certified headache specialist at Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU

Kids’ headaches can range from occasional and minor to frequent and extremely painful. They are often under-recognized and under-treated.

Just like adults, a child’s headaches can be caused by:

  • Not drinking enough water
  • Drinking too much caffeine
  • Skipping meals
  • Too little sleep
  • Neck and/or eye strain from electronic devices
  • Weather changes
  • Stress

Certain foods/dyes can also trigger headaches, but this is surprisingly uncommon.

When to call the doctor

For most, headaches aren’t cause for alarm but there are a few things to keep in mind if your child complains of headaches. It’s best to notify the doctor as soon as you notice a pattern developing. You should also call if headaches:

  • Occur with increasing frequency/severity
  • Occur with persistent vomiting or visual changes
  • Occur with enough intensity to wake your child from sleep
  • Are associated with weakness, paralysis or loss of sensation
  • Interfere with the ability to function (at school or at home)
  • Are accompanied by a change in personality or behavior

Be careful using over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen, aspirin or acetaminophen. Too frequent usage and incorrect dosing can sometimes cause headaches to become more frequent or have additional side effects. Talk with the doctor about what’s best for your child.

A headache diary including the date/time, severity, symptoms and what helped ease the pain will help your child’s doctor determine the type and triggers of the headaches, along with the best treatment options.

If your child or teen is experiencing frequent headaches or exhibiting any of the symptoms noted above, contact:

Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU
1-844-828-2467 or visit