Living with Headache :: Nationwide Children's Hospital

Living with Headache

My child has a bad headache, and nothing is helping. What do we do now?

If your child has a severe headache, first follow the medicine instructions given to you by your provider. If the headache is a migraine, did your child take the right migraine medication(s)? If it is time to repeat a medicine dose, did you try that?

If you tried your medicines and your child continues to have a severe headache, try these options:

  1. If it is during normal business hours, you can call the Neurology Department to talk to a Neurology triage nurse. The nurse can guide you. The nurse will also ask your provider for advice. The Neurology phone number is (614) 722-4625.
  2. If it is an evening or weekend and you have an urgent question for a Neurologist, you can speak to the Neurologist on call. Call the Hospital operator at (614) 722-2000 and ask to speak with the Neurologist on call.
  3. If your child is ill and has a headache, you may want to have your primary care doctor help evaluate the child. It helps to have a health care provider to look for other illnesses or headache causes. If the situation seems urgent, then consider going to the emergency room.
  4. If your child’s headache is severe or long-lasting, you may need to take your child to the emergency room for full evaluation and medicines that can be given by IV.

My child’s headaches are causing problems with school, activities, and family life. What can we do?

Frequent headaches can affect all parts of a child’s life. School, social life, and activities are all involved. Parents, teachers, coaches, and school health care professionals can all be involved in the headache management. Sometimes working with several people to handle headaches is important.

It is true that chronic headaches could affect a child’s ability to focus, do schoolwork and attend school. However, a young person with headaches can do very well in school. We expect that children and their parents make every effort to keep the child in school. Keeping a normal daily routine, including going to school, is important in dealing with headaches.


Even children have stress. Tension-type headaches are often caused by emotional stress. Migraines can be made worse by stress. So, it is very important to understand what causes your child’s stress. Then you both can manage it. If parents help their children deal with both good and bad stress, they will help them learn coping skills they can use for the rest of their lives. This can be very hard for parents. Counseling (psychology) can be helpful in identifying stress and teaching a child how to deal with headaches in daily life. If counseling is possible, it may be recommended.

Tips for Parents:

Headache at Home:
Treat the child with headache the same as you treat your other children. When your child starts to have a headache, suggest specific things that may help the pain. Be responsive and sensitive to the headache. However, keeping a normal routine is very important.

School and Communication:
It is important for parents to discuss the headaches with school health professionals, teachers and coaches. Your child’s provider can write a letter to the school to explain the headaches and your child’s treatments. Give the medicines and instructions to the school nurse. Explain the treatment plan to each teacher whenever necessary. Coordinate with the school when the child should be allowed to leave class to go to the nurse’s office and when he or she may need to leave school.

Missing School Days:
There will be times when a headache may cause a child to be late to school, to leave school early, or to miss a day of school. Parents should discourage “school refusal.” Going to school is part of a child’s normal routine and life. This needs to remain important to promote success. We do not routinely provide excuses for missed days of school. We do not encourage a child to miss school or work for a prolonged period of time. We will provide excuses only for the days we actually see your child in clinic for a visit.

A child with headaches should stay active when possible. Keeping up with normal activities can help the child deal with stress and headache pain, and improve mood. However, too many activities or responsibilities can worsen stress, and trigger headaches. If a particular activity triggers a headache, avoid it if possible. If it cannot be avoided, discuss how to make it more manageable. If a child seems overwhelmed by too many activities, consider talking to the psychologist, coaches or teachers.

Headache Clinic

The Nationwide Children's Headache Clinic accepts referrals from primary care physicians and pediatric specialists. Call (614) 722-6200, (877) 722-6220 or click on the link below. 

Request a Headache Clinic Appointment »

featured video

School stress is a significant cause of fall headaches in children and teenagers.

Pediacast on Headaches

Listen to Dr. Ann Pakalnis and Dr. Howard Jacobs as they discuss back-to-school headaches. 

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Nationwide Children's Hospital
700 Children's Drive Columbus, Ohio 43205 614.722.2000