Although teenage girls are more prone to headaches than boys because of the hormonal changes that are rampant during menstruation, boys get headaches, too, and for many of the same reasons. According to a report by Dr. Donald W. Lewis in "American Family Physician," headaches are common in young children and can worsen as a boy enters adolescence. Lewis says that headaches that are classified as frequent afflict 15 percent of teenagers older than 15. Boys get headaches more often up until puberty, but that reverses during the adolescent years.
Children's Memorial Hospital breaks down adolescent headaches into two categories: primary headaches -- such as migraines, tension-oriented pain and cluster headaches -- and secondary headaches. Secondary headaches are those due to some abnormality of the brain and are uncommon. Migraines without an accompanying aura are the most common in children. Cluster headaches usually don't begin until adolescence and boys get them more than girls do. They are recurrent over a period that can vary from weeks to months and involve pain on one side of the head, behind one eye, with a contracted pupil and sometimes swelling of the face around the eye. Teenagers can be as prone to tension headaches as adults.
In teenage boys, the cause behind headaches can be the hormonal changes of adolescence coupled in some cases with family problems and occasionally the use of illicit drugs, according to the Michigan Headache and Neurological Institute. Teenagers don't always keep regular sleeping habits and a lack of rest is one cause of their headaches. They have an inclination to skip meals or eat according to their social schedules -- and then they might consume fast food. This, too, can contribute to habitual headaches. Lewis cites interrupted sleep patterns, missed meals and stress as causes of headaches in adolescents. Diet also plays a part, particularly caffeine. As children get older and begin drinking coffee, both caffeine and withdrawal from caffeine can cause headaches.
Both Lewis and the Michigan Headache and Neurological Institute suggest that behavioral changes should be your first avenue of recourse if your adolescent son suffers from headaches. Set a regular bedtime for him and keep trying even though it might be difficult to enforce. Plan meals at regular times but around his schedule so he's not eating on the fly. Encourage exercise -- not necessarily organized sports, which can be a source of stress, but "fun" pursuits, such as a membership at a gym where he can work out with friends. The Michigan Headache and Neurological Institute suggests relaxation techniques, such as those that can teach him to be aware of muscle tension and how to relax those muscles, particularly at the back of the neck where most tension headaches start.
Certain foods can trigger migraines, such as cheese, processed foods, chocolates and foods containing MSG, according to Lewis. Unfortunately, most diet therapies for headaches involve eliminating these foods entirely, which can be very difficult with an adolescent who probably often eats away from home. Lewis suggests modifying this technique if your son suffers from headaches. Instead of trying to remove foods from his diet, keep track of what happens when he eats them to help you identify them. Enlist teachers and friends to help you. Then you can eliminate the culprit without a wholesale restriction of his diet.
Never give your son aspirin for a headache if he is younger than 15, warns the Michigan Headache and Neurological Institute. It can cause Reye's syndrome, which can be fatal.