Migraine headaches can occur at any age, and unfortunately, they are common among children, with one in ten school-age children suffering with migraine. About half of all migraine sufferers will have had their first attack before their 12th birthday.
Children get the same types of headaches adults do, but since their symptoms may differ it can be difficult to tell headache type in a child. In general, though, children frequently experience some similar symptoms, such as:
- pulsating, throbbing or pounding head pain
- abdominal pain
- a lack of energy
- sensitivity to light and noise
- disturbed vision
- pain increases with physical activity
What causes a migraine varies significantly from person to person, and it is difficult to isolate specific triggers, as something that caused a migraine one day may not cause one another day. Parents and children can learn from experience which certain things or combinations of things tend to trigger an attack, and by addressing these could limit the frequency of attacks.
What Triggers Migraine Attacks in Children
- Lack of Sleep. Sleeping too much or too little and going to sleep or waking up at a a different time than they usually do can bring on a migraine in children. Setting and sticking to regular bed and waking up times could help prevent attacks.
- Dehydration. Children should be encouraged to drink water throughout the day, especially when they are active.
- Diet. A healthy diet full of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains is important, and so is not missing meals, especially breakfast. For some children, eating small nutritious snacks at regular intervals helps to control their attacks.
- Stress. Children, even in elementary school, can be under stress from a range of different things. They can be worried about tests, bullying and teasing, and problems at home. It could help prevent attacks if children identify and learn how to relieve their sources of stress and tension.
Treating and Coping with Migraines in Kids
While a few FDA-approved treatment medications for children do now exist, choices are limited. Thankfully there are many good remedies and non-medication coping options to help children with migraine.
- Cold Therapy. Cold packs can be very helpful in relieving head pain. Regular ice packs work well, and you can even buy wearable "headache hats" designed to relieve migraines and headaches.
- Limiting Light and Noise. At home, go someplace quiet, turn off the lights, pull down the blinds. If you are out and can't control the environment, kid sized sunglasses and earbuds help. It may be a good idea to make sure children have somewhere quiet to go if they get a migraine during school, like the nurses office.
- Hydration & Nutrition. During a migraine, it is important that children drink fluids to prevent dehydration if at all possible. If they have missed meals or not eaten enough, eating can also help. As many children have nausea and difficulty keeping food down during attacks, something simple like crackers or apples is a good idea.