Migraines are a reoccurring condition that affects about ten percent of children. They are often more severe than the average headache and can continue coming back even after treatment. No parent wants to see their child suffer from migraines. The first step is to ensure that this is actually what is causing your child pain. Some medical conditions which are more serious in nature can mimic migraines and cause a medical doctor to diagnose your child incorrectly.
What is interesting to note is the fact that while the ratio of adult women who suffer from migraines is higher than their male counterparts, more boys than girls aged 5-10 suffer from migraines. As the children approach adolescence, girls suffer from them more.
In addition, most juvenile migraine sufferers experience their first attack before their fifth birthday. While these children may experience moments when their migraines go into remission, quite often they will suffer with them the rest of their lives peaking around age 44.
While researchers do not know exactly what causes migraines, it is clear that some foods can be culprits. The most common food triggers are alcohol, chocolate, cheese, nuts, shellfish, Chinese food, sugar and caffeine. Hormonal changes can also play a role, especially for females who are nearing the start of menses.
Migraine symptoms in children aged 5-10 are similar to those in adults. They include:
- A terrible throbbing headache that’s made worse by certain strong smells, bright lights, particular foods, etc.
- Feeling fatigue and feeling the need to sleep in a dark room to help alleviate the symptoms.
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Sweating and/or chills
- Photophobia (sensitivity to light)
- Phonophobia (sensitivity to sound)
- Osmophobia (sensitivity to smell)
- Memory loss
Sometimes before the onset of a migraine, a child displays a certain set of behaviors that indicate an attack is forthcoming. Both migraines with or without aura often have a pre-warning phase that can occur up to 24 hours before the headache actually begins. These symptoms are actually more prevalent in those who have migraines without aura as opposed to those where aura occurs. Some of these are:
- Feelings of sadness or joy
- Sleep disturbances
- Increased or decreased appetite
- Food craving or anorexia (increased or lack of appetite)
- Water retention
- Talkativeness or social withdrawal
If you are unsure as to whether or not your child experiences aura with his/her migraines, this is what you are looking for:
Symptoms of visual auras consist of the following:
- Blurred vision
- Fortification spectra (the seeing of zigzag lines)
- Scotomata (defects in the field of vision)
- Scintillations (seeing sparks or flashes of light)
- Black dots
- Seeing kaleidoscope patterns of various colors
- Micropsia (seeing objects as smaller than they are)
- Macropsia (seeing objects as larger than they are)
- Alice in Wonderland syndrome (the illusion of dreams, feelings of either floating or rising, and an altered sense of the passage of time)
The best treatment of migraines in children is to let them sleep. Good sleep helps to restore the brain’s natural function, helps relieve the pain and resolves many of the symptoms that are associated with migraines.
Sometimes your child’s doctor will prescribe pain relievers to help alleviate your child’s migraine pain. NSAIDs are effective when taken at the appropriate dose during the early phase of a migraine. Even other pain relievers such as Tylenol, Advil, Motrin, etc. are considered an effective means of treatment. Never use aspirin when treating juvenile (child or adolescent) migraines.
Aside from sleep and a stringent pain therapy, treating migraines in children is best accomplished by avoiding the triggers from the start. Starting a food journal and keeping track of what’s eaten is a great way to avoid migraine attacks in the future. Some of the things you’ll want to track for your child are:
- Date and time the attack began
- Type and location of headache pain
- Symptoms before the headache
- All food and drink consumed prior to the attack
- Bedtime, wake time, and quality of sleep prior to the attack
- Menstrual periods or female hormones (if applicable)
- Activities before the headache began
- Medications taken and their side effects
As you can see, migraines can affect even the youngest of children. Seeking your doctor’s insight while tracking your child’s symptoms and possible triggers can help greatly improve your child’s quality of life.