Many children miss school because of an episode of migraine. This can leave a child feeling frustrated and feeling ‘different’. Their education may also suffer especially if they find it difficult to catch up on missed lesson particularly when attacks happen regularly. Other children can experience ‘weekend migraine’, where the headache is brought on by relaxing at the end of the week. This can affect activities with family and friends, and so may begin to affect their social life which might lead to feelings of low self-esteem.
Once migraines are diagnosed they can be treated with a similar range of medications as adults, both in an acute attack and if frequent as preventers. However, there are things which parents or carers can do to help children cope, by making lifestyle changes and generally being more aware.
Here are some helpful tips:
- Get the correct diagnosis and advice on managing migraines in children, often it can be mistaken for other conditions such as sinusitis, allergies or eyesight problems. Websites such as www.migrainetrust.org and www.migraine.org.uk can help.
- Avoiding triggers, as prevention is better than cure so help your child to keep a headache diary, by using a diary and logging down foods eaten you may find that certain foods are a trigger, in which case they can be avoided or severely limited.
- Encourage the child to eat regularly, ensuring that they don’t go long hours without food. Discouraging missing meals or going long periods without foods which causes large peaks and troughs in the blood sugar levels can be enough to trigger a migraine, so healthy snacks should be encouraged as should a balanced diet. Do not go longer than 3-4 hours without food.
- It is also important to make sure they are properly hydrated so also encourage them to drink plenty of water throughout the day, and particularly on days when they have been very active. Encouraging 1-2 litres of water / soft drinks per day and avoiding sugary drinks and those that include additives and caffeine, such as cola
- Ensure that the child is getting enough sleep approximately 8 hours. Set up regular times for getting up and going to bed.
- Exercise should be encouraged on a regular basis but without making it strenuous, as for some children sudden bursts of activity such as running can trigger an attack.
- Computer screens and TV’s, play stations etc. are often a trigger with their glare and flicker, so regular breaks should be encouraged, no longer than 45 minutes at a time. With the apps available on the computers and tablets this should be easier by using timers etc.
- Stress is a big factor; many children today feel under pressure from a range of different things through out a range of ages, worry about exams, family problems, etc. but often don’t know how to deal with them so encouraging children to talk openly about their worries can go a long way.
- Environmental factors such as bright lights, changes in weather may also be triggers, so whilst we can’t do anything about the weather, avoiding bright lights by wearing sunglasses and a cap, or in the house having dimmer switches on the lights in a child’s bedroom for instance, can all help.
- Many children are much more a risk of getting a migraine when they are under the weather, so if they are suffering from a cold or tummy bug, so it is important for them to rest. Similarly often young girls suffer with migraines induced by the hormones involved in their monthly periods and whilst migraines often have multiple triggers it is doubly important to avoid other triggers when a period is due.
- You will often be able to sense when they may be going to have an attack, by recognizing the warning signs. These might be:
- Tiredness and yawning,
- Muscle pain,
- Pale complexion,
- A child becoming quieter or more irritable,
- Food cravings
- So you may find your child withdrawing from bright lights, or taking themselves to bed, or they may report feeling sick, or rubbing their forehead.
- Help your child to manage their condition, making them more confident about controlling their condition. Encourage them to take their medication early or tell you how they are feeling early before the pain becomes severe and therefore takes longer to get under control.
- By taking steps to manage attacks in childhood may help them to manage the condition in adult life, and setting up ‘migraine –friendly’ routines when a child is young may help to prevent the condition from manifesting as they get older.
- Relaxation techniques can help reduce the physical tension.
- In some cases as an adjunct to management and prevention, manual treatment by osteopaths and physios can be helpful, particularly when the trigger may be coming from neck and shoulder tension, as can acupuncture.
If you would like more information please see www.migrainetrust.org/young-sufferers