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Headaches in school students with an ABI fact sheet

Headaches in school students with an acquired brain injury

Following a brain injury, children may experience headaches. These headaches can impact on a child’s attendance at school and ability to participate in the educational program. Headaches may be related to a number of factors, some of which may require medication or medical intervention. Through observation, educational staff can assist in determining possible causes of headaches and any strategies that are effective in minimising their impact.

Causes of Headaches

  • Fatigue – Both physical and mental fatigue may cause the child to experience headaches.
  • Anxiety – Changes in the child’s physical, cognitive or emotional functioning are frequently present following a brain injury and often cause anxiety that results in headaches. If the anxiety does not decrease as recovery progresses, then counselling support for the child should be sought.
  • Shunt dysfunction – If the child has a shunt it should be checked. Shunt dysfunction will lead to increased pressure in the brain, which often causes headache. It is very important to get medical attention if shunt dysfunction is suspected.
  • Environmental Factors – Noise (loud music, classroom chatter), diet and dehydration (child forgets to eat lunch/snacks or to drink water) can all be factors that can cause headaches, particularly in the early stages of recovery or return to school.
  • Miscellaneous – There may be other causes, unrelated to a brain injury, such as migraine or toothache.

What can I do to help students suffering headaches?

Monitoring headaches

Keeping a ‘headache diary’ is an effective way to determine any patterns in headache occurrence and methods of relief. This will assist the child’s doctor to determine what type of headache the child is suffering from and the appropriate form of treatment. The headache diary should indicate:

  • The time of day that the headache occurred.
  • The time of day that the headache occurred.
  • The activity that the child was participating in when the headache occurred.
  • Anything that relieved the headache such as a rest, quiet time or pain killers (always check with parents before giving pain killers).
  • When the child last ate or drank.
  • Frequency, duration and intensity of the headaches.

Timely and effective intervention to decrease headaches will improve the child’s overall well-being and allow them to participate in their educational program at the optimal level. If headaches persist or are interfering with a child’s ability to participate in activities, it is appropriate to recommend that a medical review be sought.

In the classroom

  • Provide access to pain relief medication as recommended by Doctor.
  • Provide a low stimulation zone (decreased noise, dark) in the classroom where the student can go and have a small rest.
  • Drink of water.
  • Alternative options to physical activity.

Contact us

Queensland Paediatric Rehabilitation Service
Queensland Children’s Hospital
Level 6, 501 Stanley Street, South Brisbane 4101
t: 07 3068 2950
t: 07 3068 1111 (general enquiries)
f: 07 3068 3909

In an emergency, always call 000.

If it’s not an emergency but you have any concerns, contact 13 Health (13 43 2584). Qualified staff will give you advice on who to talk to and how quickly you should do it. You can phone 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Developed by the Queensland Paediatric Rehabilitation Service, Children’s Health Queensland. Updated: October 2017. All information contained in this sheet has been supplied by qualified professionals as a guideline for care only. Seek medical advice, as appropriate, for concerns regarding your child’s health.