Migraines in Children

Migraines in Children
Migraines in Children

Children and Migraines

Many people don’t think children can get headaches, after all, what they have to be stressed about. However, kids can and do get headaches and even migraines. Studies have estimated that approximately 20% of adult migraine sufferers started having migraines as a child before the age of ten with up to 50% saying their migraines started before the age of twenty. Migraines in children are no laughing matter and can cause loss of school time and simply make the child miserable with the symptoms.

Children and Adolescent Headaches

Researchers have spent a great deal of time and efforts studying headaches in children and adolescents with some surprising results. Reports have estimated that more than 50% of boys and more than 70% of girls have headaches between ages 12 and 17 years of age. Some are migraine headaches and some are tension headaches.

Children and adolescents in particular are under more stress than most people think. They are expected to perform well in school, participate in social activities as well as deal with peer pressure and the desire to fit in with others their own age. This can lead to migraine and tension headaches in some young people.

Sinus headaches in children and adolescents are simply a part of health conditions such as allergies. Seasonal changes in temperature and humidity levels can also cause sinus headaches in children and adolescents.

Other causes of headaches in this group of young people include ear infections, fevers due to other illnesses, and colds or flu. These headaches are part of the other illness and typically go away when the illness is treated.

Causes of Migraines in Children

Just as with adults, the exact causes of migraine headaches in children is not known; however, the same theories that apply to adult migraines apply to migraines in children and include genetics and chemical imbalances in the brain. Children and adolescents that suffer from migraine headaches typically have a family member that does as well.

The triggers that set a migraine in motion in children are similar to those that set off attacks in adults and include:
  • Food such as cheese, chocolate, MSG and processed foods.
  • Excessive tiredness
  • Over-activity or over-stimulation such as being extremely excited
  • Sensory stimulus such as smells or bright lights.
  • School stress – striving to be the best academically or athletically
  • Family stress – emotional stress in the family such as divorce, death and more.
  • Eyestrain
  • Back and neck strain which can be caused from heavy back packs.

These are some of the common triggers that parents can watch for and help their children avoid in order to combat migraine headaches. There are others that may be specific to a child and that parents will learn to identify over time.

More Serious Problems

Most childhood headaches are simply headaches associated with a cold or a migraine that can be treated. However, there are more serious illnesses that can cause headaches and require immediate attention. If the headache is accompanied by speech or communication problems, vision problems or muscle lethargy, a more serious issue could be at play and should be addressed as soon as possible.

Meningitis, abscesses on the brain, blood clots, tumors, and bleeding can all lead to severe headaches in children. Additionally, if there is trauma to the head, a doctor should be consulted immediately. Internal bleeding can occur without even a scratch on the child. Internal bleeding can lead to a headache due to the pressure building up and if this pressure is not released, coma, brain damage or even death can occur.

Treating Migraines in Children

Treatment of migraines in children is similar to treatment in adults; however, doctors try to use less medications and more therapeutic treatments when possible. Preventing the migraines is the first order of business and doctors will often try therapy, biofeedback and other non-medication avenues. The main reason for this is that many prescription medications are not designed for growing bodies and so can’t be used in children and adolescents.

If non-medicine methods do not help with the migraines, doctors will use the mildest medications they can and only those that are approved for use in children and young adults. Over the counter options such as Advil, Motrin and Tylenol are safe for use in this age group and can be used with caffeine products, which has been shown to help with migraines. Excedrin Migraine may also be an option that can relieve pain.

Parents may at first be afraid when their child says they have a headache and automatically fear the worst. However, children can and do have headaches that are simply stress induced such as migraines or sinus headaches that are not life threatening. The main thing that parents need to do is keep an eye on their child and make sure the headache doesn’t linger for weeks. Parents who are worried about their child’s headache should consult their pediatrician rather than worry.

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