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The Informed Parent

Chronic Daily Headaches: What Can You Do For Your Teenager?

by Lori A. Livingston, M.D., F.A.A.P.
Published on May. 31, 2010

Frequent headaches are a common problem among teenagers. Parents tend to fear the worst possible cause: a brain tumor. But this is very rare. Most of the time your doctor can identify potential causes for these headaches and help control them. Here are some tips to help figure out your child’s headaches. As always, if you are concerned, talk to your doctor.

Risk Factors

  • Medication overuse: using common pain relievers like Tylenol and Motrin frequently may actually trigger more headaches. Many prescription and over-the-counter medications, including “natural” or herbal supplements, can cause headaches.
  • Obesity: can lead to sleep apnea or high blood pressure which can also cause headaches.
  • Sleep problems
  • Head injury
  • Chronic illness: epilepsy, asthma, allergies, diabetes, chronic infection, etc.
  • Emotional stress
  • Anxiety, depression, psychiatric disorders.
  • Poor nutrition: teenagers commonly skip meals or don’t drink enough water throughout the day. Caffeine in soda, coffee drinks, energy drinks and some foods can also be a headache trigger.
  • Vision problems

Red Flags—Reasons To See Your Doctor Right Away

  • Early morning awakening with headache, nausea, vomiting.
  • Worsening headache with straining, coughing, sneezing or lifting.
  • Change in mood, behavior, or confusion.
  • Worsening pattern of headaches.
  • Headache with high fever, severe illness.
  • Changes in vision, weakness, dizziness.
  • Sudden onset of severe headache.


  • Headache diary: keep track of the days and times of headaches, how severe they are, and if anything makes them worse or better, and share with your doctor.
  • Eat regular meals 3 times per day.
  • Avoid caffeine, avoid caffeine, avoid caffeine!
  • Get adequate sleep: at least 8 hours. Remove television and other distractions from your bedroom since these can cause sleep problems.
  • No narcotics!
  • Exercise daily: avoid high impact aerobic activity, like running, since this can make headaches worse. Try walking, yoga, swimming, or something light.
  • Go to school every day.
  • Consider referral to a counselor, psychologist, or psychiatrist: if stress is part of your teenager’s life, which it likely is for one reason or another, he may benefit from talking to someone.
  • Consider referral to a neurologist: sometimes daily medications to prevent headaches can be used.
  • Be patient: daily headaches will NOT go away in a few days. It will likely take a few months to decrease the amount and severity of headaches. But you will function better and feel better if you can be patient and follow these simple suggestions.

Last, encourage and support your child. The outlook is good. Up to 75% of people with chronic daily headaches no longer have them two years later.

Reference: Contemporary Pediatrics, April 2010

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