Migraines in Children
It may seem like migraines are an affliction of adulthood, but children can be just as vulnerable to the throbbing pain and side effects of migraine headaches. In fact, half of migraine sufferers experience their first attack before the age of 12, and about 10% of school-age children will suffer from migraines at one point.
Migraine headaches are never pleasant, but left untreated, they can have far-reaching effects for children. Disabling pain can lead to anxiety and isolation, and chronic migraines can certainly affect quality of life and social development. In many cases, pain relievers and a bit of tender loving care are all you can give your child during a migraine, but there are other times when you should seek prompt medical attention.
Recognizing Migraines in Children
Children experience many of the same migraine symptoms as adults, but there are some distinct differences in how symptoms tend to manifest. Add to that a communication barrier, inconstant discomfort and uneven expression, and it can be extremely difficult to pinpoint what sort of pain your child is experiencing. However, there are a few telltale signs that a migraine is likely to blame:
- Late afternoon start (migraines in adults typically start in the mornings)
- Pain lasting less than four hours (pain goes on much longer for many adult migraine sufferers)
- Nausea and vomiting
- Sensitivity to light and sound
- Pulsing or throbbing pain
Children may also experience symptoms others than head pain, like dizziness, abdominal pain, and mood swings. These are known as migraine equivalents, and may or may not come along with migraine aura (visual disturbances like colored spots or blurry lines).
Although boys tend to suffer less and less from migraines as they move through adolescence, migraine frequency and intensity often increases for girls entering puberty. Experts surmise that hormones have a lot to do with pain fluctuation, which may explain why adolescent girls are three times as likely to experience migraines as boys of the same age.
Treating Your Child’s Migraines
The best treatment option will depend on the frequency, severity, and duration of your child’s migraine. Begin with less invasive treatments, and move up to more powerful interventions as needed – the less medication, the better, especially in the long-term.
- Topical treatments. Sensitivity to light and heat can be especially uncomfortable during a migraine, so try moving to a cool, dark room and placing a cool towel on your child’s head.
- Sleep. Rest and relaxation can go far to relieving headache pain, and for some children, a long bout of sleep can eradicate the migraine.
- Regulating diet. Children seems to be more sensitive to dietary changes or skipping meals than adults who suffer from migraines. Spreading out healthy meals (minus any trigger foods) over the course of the day, and making sure to never miss one, will help to ease migraine pain and prevent future attacks.