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Cluster Headaches in Children: Warning Signs and Treatment

Mother with son who has a cluster headache

The most common individuals that experience cluster headaches are men between the ages of 20 and 50. But while far less common, cluster headaches can occur in children as well.

Certain risk factors make some children more prone to cluster headaches than others, but the same triggers that affect adults make the condition worse for kids too.

Here is some information about cluster headaches in children, why they occur, cluster headache causes, and cluster headache treatment options for kids. It’s important for parents and caregivers to understand the signs and symptoms of these very painful headaches so they can help their children cope with the pain and seek medical treatment if necessary.

Causes of Headaches in Children

Although there are various types of headaches that affect children, most kids headache symptoms aren’t serious and will go away with treatment. But just like adults, kids can develop tension headaches, migraines, and cluster headaches. Each of these types of headaches has its own unique causes, which are similar to the causes for adults.

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Cluster Headache Causes

Medical research links cluster headaches with the body’s parasympathetic nervous system that controls autonomic functioning. There are also connections between cluster headaches and the hypothalamus that controls natural rhythms in the body. There are also various triggers that aren’t necessarily cluster headache causes, but they make an existing condition flare up and get worse.

Cluster headaches are more common in children age 10 or older rather than very young children, and boys are more likely to have them than girls. They are marked by severe pain on one side of the head, forehead swelling, congested or runny nose, and an eyelid that is red and swollen.

Cluster Headache Triggers to Avoid

Alcohol is a major one of the cluster headache triggers for adults, but this is less relevant for children. However, children that are exposed to second-hand cigarette smoke are more prone to a cluster headache flare-up. Other types of strong smells and chemical fumes, whether from indoor cleaning products or environmental toxins are cluster headache triggers for kids. There is also some evidence that napping in the afternoon can trigger cluster headaches, but children may require naps at this time to get the rest their bodies need.

Kids Headache Prevention Tips

When it comes to cluster headaches, the strategy is two-pronged: prevention and stopping attacks that are in progress. A pediatrician may be able to prescribe preventative medicines to take daily in order to reduce the likelihood of a cluster headache. In general, kids who are prone to cluster headaches should avoid the triggers mentioned above as much as possible. Reducing stress, eating a healthy diet, and getting plenty of rest are also key parts to a cluster headache prevention strategy. Parents and caregivers should consider keeping a headache journal to document the child’s headaches, including their duration, frequency, severity, and other symptoms.

Cluster Headache Treatment for Kids

In addition to daily preventative medications, a pediatrician may also be able to prescribe abortive medications that target blood vessel receptors to stop a headache. Rescue medications, such as analgesics, can also be used to stop a headache in progress.

However, many over-the-counter headache medications, such as Vanquish, are specially formulated for individuals 12 years of age and older. It is important to contact a child’s doctor before administrating an adult-level dosage of headache medication, even if it is a trusted household remedy. Additionally, parents and caregivers will want to discuss common cluster headache treatment options used for adults with their doctors to determine if these options are safe for the child. This may include sumatriptan injections administered just under the skin and oxygen therapy.

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