Migraine Headaches in Children: Care Instructions

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Migraines are severe, throbbing headaches that usually occur on one side of the head. But they can move from side to side or affect both sides. They often occur with nausea or vomiting. People with a migraine are often very sensitive to light, noise, and smells. Changes in vision may happen before the headache. Some of these changes are flashing lights or dark spots.

Kids get migraine headaches too. Migraine headaches often run in families. A migraine can be triggered by a variety of things. This can include certain foods (chocolate, cheese, fast food) or odors, smoke, bright light, stress, dehydration, hunger, or lack of sleep.

Without treatment, your child's migraine headache can last 2 to 72 hours. For most children, migraine headaches return from time to time. Home treatment can help reduce how often and how uncomfortable the migraine headaches are.

Follow-up care is a key part of your child's treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if your child is having problems. It's also a good idea to know your child's test results and keep a list of the medicines your child takes.

How can you care for your child at home?

Here are some steps you can take to treat your child's migraines at home.

  • Begin home treatment at the first sign of a migraine. Your child should go to a quiet, dark place and relax. Most headaches will go away after rest or sleep.
  • Let your child know that watching TV or reading during a headache can make the headache worse.
  • If your doctor has prescribed medicine to stop your child's migraines, have your child take it at the first sign of a migraine. This can help stop the headache before it gets worse. If your doctor has prescribed medicine to be taken daily, make sure that your child takes it every day even if your child does not have a headache.
  • If your doctor has not prescribed medicine for your child's migraines, give your child a pain reliever, such as children's acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin). Have your child take the medicine at the first sign of a migraine. This can help stop the headache before it gets worse. Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
  • Don't let your child take medicine for headache pain too often. Talk to your child's doctor if your child is taking medicine more than 2 days a week to stop a headache. Taking too much pain medicine can lead to more headaches. These are called medicine-overuse headaches.
  • Put a cold, moist cloth or ice pack on the part of the head that hurts. Put a thin cloth between the ice and your child's skin. Do not use heat—it can make the pain worse.
  • Gently massage your child's neck and shoulders.
  • Do not ignore new symptoms that occur with a headache, such as a fever, weakness or numbness, vision changes, or confusion. These may be signs of a more serious problem.

How can you help prevent migraine headaches in your child?

To prevent migraine headaches in your child, try these tips.

  • Keep a headache diary.

    This can help you figure out what triggers your child's headaches. Record when each headache begins, how long it lasts, where it hurts, and what the pain is like. Write down any other symptoms your child has with the headache, such as nausea, flashing lights or dark spots, or sensitivity to bright light or loud noise. List anything that might have triggered the headache. When you know what things trigger your child's headaches, try to avoid them.

  • Make sure that your child drinks plenty of fluids.

    Avoid drinks that have caffeine. Many popular soda drinks contain caffeine.

  • Make sure that your child gets plenty of sleep.

    Most children need to sleep about 9 to 14 hours each night, depending on their age.

  • Encourage your child to get plenty of exercise.

    But make sure your child doesn't exercise too hard. It may trigger a headache.

  • Encourage your child not to skip meals.

    Provide regular, healthy meals.

  • Keep your child away from smoke.

    Do not smoke or let anyone else smoke around your child or in your house.

  • Find healthy ways to deal with stress.

    Do not overbook your child's time.

  • Seek help if you think your child may be depressed or anxious.

    Treating these problems may reduce the number of migraines your child has.

  • Limit the amount of time your child spends in front of the TV and computer.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think your child may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • Your child has a very painful, sudden headache that's different from any they have had before.
  • Your child has a headache with sudden weakness, numbness, trouble moving parts of the body, vision problems, slurred speech, confusion, or behavior changes.

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Your child has headaches after a recent fall or blow to the head.
  • Your child has a fever and a stiff neck.
  • Your child has new nausea and vomiting, or they cannot keep down food or fluids.

Watch closely for changes in your child's health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • Your child wakes up in the morning with a headache and vomiting, and this happens more than a few times.
  • Your child has a headache that does not get better within 1 or 2 days.
  • Your child's headaches get worse or happen more often.
  • Your child is often missing school, sports, or other activities because of their headaches.

Where can you learn more?

Go to http://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

Enter J120 in the search box to learn more about "Migraine Headaches in Children: Care Instructions".

The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.