It’s distressing to witness your child suffering from pain. This is especially true if the pain is in delicate areas like the head and neck. What’s more, children may not always be able to clearly express what’s causing the discomfort. Could it be a simple case of ear infection that can be treated by common antibiotics, or is it a tumour on the parotid gland that will require a parotidectomy? The uncertainty can leave you feeling helpless.
To help ease some of your worries, here is a list of both common and uncommon reasons for head and neck pain in children. Hopefully, it can provide insights to help you navigate trying times with confidence and understanding.
Common Causes of Head and Neck Pain in Children
- Migraine and Tension Headaches. Just like adults, kids can also experience migraines and tension headaches. Migraines are often accompanied by throbbing pain, as well as sensitivity to light and sound. Meanwhile, tension headaches cause a constant, dull ache around the head. To be sure, pay attention to your child’s triggers and patterns to help manage these headaches effectively.
- Sinusitis. The typical symptom of sinusitis in children is facial pain, which can radiate down to the neck area. You can manage sinus infections in your child by ensuring they get adequate rest and hydration.
- Ear Infections. Ear infections can cause referred pain in the head and neck. It’s crucial to Identify and treat ear infections promptly to prevent the condition from getting worse.
- Dental Issues. Dental problems like tooth decay or malocclusion (the upper and lower teeth don’t align when the mouth is closed) can cause facial and jaw pain in children. To prevent these issues, arrange regular dental check-ups for your kid and make sure they maintain good oral hygiene.
- Neck Strain. Does your child carry heavy backpacks to school or perhaps spend excessive time on electronic devices? These can lead to poor posture and muscle strain, which can result neck pain in children. Help your child alleviate their neck strain by giving them ergonomic equipment and encouraging them to breaks from using their gadgets.
- Stiff Neck. A stiff neck may be the result of minor injuries, muscle strain, or viral infections. Monitor your child’s symptoms closely and seek medical advice if the stiffness persists.
- Viral Infections. Children are prone to viral infections like the common cold or flu. On some occasions, these can cause head and neck discomfort. Encourage your child to rest, give them extra fluids, and use over-the-counter medications when necessary to help manage these symptoms.
- Eye Problems. If your child has vision problems, they may manifest as head pain. You can prevent many eye conditions from happening or getting worse with regular eye check-ups and by limiting screen time.
Less Common Causes of Head and Neck Pain
Some of the less common causes of head and neck pain include the following:
- Meningitis. Meningitis is a condition that causes the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord to become inflamed. This is a serious condition that requires immediate medical attention. If your child experiences severe headaches, fever, neck stiffness, and seizure, go to the emergency room right away.
- Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) Disorders. The temporomandibular joints (TMJ) connect the lower jaw or mandible to the skull. TMJ disorders can lead to pain and discomfort in the jaw joint and surrounding muscles. Consult a paediatric dentist or specialist can provide appropriate management for TMJ-related pain.
- Cervical Lymphadenitis. There are many causes of swollen lymph nodes in the neck, including viral respiratory infections. Consult a healthcare professional immediately if your child has swollen glands accompanied by other symptoms.
- Neuralgia. If your child describes their head or neck pain as sharp or shooting, they may have nerve-related conditions that cause neuralgia. Visit your paediatrician to receive an accurate diagnosis and treatment for neuralgia.
- Tumours. Though rare, tumours in the head or neck area can cause persistent pain. Timely medical evaluation is crucial for early detection and appropriate treatment that may include surgery.
These conditions require medical treatment, especially meningitis which can be life-threatening.
When to Seek Medical Attention for Head and Neck Pain in Children
Most instances of head and neck pain in children are no cause for alarm, although there are situations when immediate medical attention is necessary. Call your doctor or go to the emergency room if your child experiences the following:
- Sudden, severe, or persistent headaches
- High fever with neck stiffness
- Changes in behaviour or neurological symptoms
- Vision disturbances or eye-related pain
- Difficulty chewing or swallowing
Diagnosis and Management
It’s essential to consult a healthcare professional as soon as possible if your child has recurring or severe head and neck pain. The diagnostic process may involve medical history, physical examination, and possibly imaging or other tests to identify the underlying cause.
An accurate diagnosis is crucial for appropriate management of head and neck pain. Treatments can include medication, physical therapy, lifestyle changes, or specialised care from a paediatric specialist. Depending on the assessment, your child’s healthcare provider may recommend a consultation with a specialist, such as a paediatric neurologist, otolaryngologist (ear, nose, and throat specialist), or ophthalmologist, for further evaluation and care.
Encouraging healthy habits can help prevent head and neck pain in children. For starters, promote good posture during activities like studying or screen time. Second, ensure regular dental check-ups and teach proper oral hygiene practices. Lastly, encourage adequate sleep and limit screen time to protect eye health.
While head and neck pain in children can be concerning, understanding the common causes and recognising when to seek medical attention empowers you to take charge of your child’s health needs. Remember that early detection and appropriate management lead to better outcomes. Moreover, encourage your child to practice healthy habits to reduce the risks of developing these head and neck conditions in the first place.