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Returning to School Can Be Real Headache for Some Kids

PHOTO: A doctor says going back to school can cause headaches for some children, with an estimated 10 percent of school-aged children experiencing them periodically. Photo credit: Ignas Kukenys/Wikimedia Commons
PHOTO: A doctor says going back to school can cause headaches for some children, with an estimated 10 percent of school-aged children experiencing them periodically. Photo credit: Ignas Kukenys/Wikimedia Commons
August 12, 2014

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Going back to school after summer break can be a literal headache for some Florida children.

Dr. Nick DeBlasio, a pediatrician with the Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, says about 10 percent of school-aged children and more than 15 percent of teens experience periodic headaches. He says dehydration is one of the most common causes of those headaches, especially as the weather is still hot, kids are active, and it isn't as handy to get a drink of water at school as it is at home. He notes, however, another cause of headaches is a lack of sleep.

"During the summer, everything's a little bit more carefree and bedtimes tend to be a little later," says DeBlasio. "Then, boom. All of the sudden you're getting up early to go to school. So a lot of kids have really decreased sleep, especially the first few weeks of the school year."

Skipping meals can also be a trigger. DeBlasio suggests relieving a child's headache pain with water or an electrolyte drink and over-the-counter ibuprofen. He says maintaining a regular eating and sleeping schedule and keeping children well-hydrated can prevent headaches.

DeBlasio adds the stress of new classes, teachers and schedules can cause headaches as well. For some children, it may also be the sign of a vision problem.

"Typically that tends to be the kid who will say, 'The board is a little bit blurry' or 'I'm straining to see the board,'" says DeBlasio. "That comes to light more in the beginning of the school year, when the kids are suddenly more in a structured environment."

He says most headaches in children are not a cause for alarm, but there are a few instances that signal the need for additional investigation.

"If you notice weird symptoms like waking up in the middle of the night with headaches, vomiting due to the headaches, headaches that get better immediately after vomiting, or an increase in frequency of headaches," DeBlasio cautions, "that's definitely something to talk to your pediatrician about."

DeBlasio adds it's important to note ibuprofen should not be taken more than three times a week. Greater frequency may cause rebound headaches.

Stephanie Carson, Public News Service - FL