What Causes Migraine In Children: Common Triggers And Preventive Measures
A migraine is a severe, throbbing type of headache that keeps coming back. What causes migraine in children and what are the triggers?
What is a migraine headache?
A migraine is a severe headache that keeps coming back. The pain is often throbbing and can happen on one or both sides of the head.
Migraines can be disabling, and migraine sufferers can feel dizzy or sick to their stomachs. They may be sensitive to light, noise, or smells.
Once the migraine starts for example, children might feel disturbed by bright light, smell, or sound and it might make them feel worse. They might be unable to continue with their normal routine, and may become nauseated and vomit. Trying to do physical activities can make the pain worse.
Most migraines last from 30 minutes to several hours, some can last a couple of days.
Migraine is also known as an acute recurrent headache. In early childhood and before puberty, migraine is more commonly seen in boys than girls.
In adolescence, migraine affects young women more than young men. As adults, women are three times more likely to have a migraine than men.
What causes migraine in children?
Experts believe that migraine is genetic and the likelihood of getting migraines runs in the family. Kids who have a parent who gets migraines have a greater chance of having them than kids without that family history.
The exact cause of migraines, however, is unknown. But there are some common triggers which can set off a migraine and these triggers differ for each person.
Some common migraine triggers in children include:
- Stress – especially related to school (for example, school work, bullying) and family problems. Stress management includes regular exercise, adequate rest, sleep and diet, and enjoying pleasant activities and hobbies.
- Lack of sleep – results in less energy for coping with stress. Aim for at least 8 hours of sleep every night.
- Changes in regular routine – such as lack of sleep, travel, or illness can trigger a migraine.
- Changes in normal eating patterns – skipping meals can cause migraine. Make sure that your child eats three regular meals and does not skip breakfast.
- Menstruation – for girls, as they enter their teens, normal hormonal changes caused by the menstrual cycle can trigger a migraine.
- Travel – the motion sickness sometimes caused by travel in a car or boat can trigger a migraine.
- Diet –certain foods or food additives can trigger a migraine. These foods include citrus fruits, ice cream, aged cheeses, pizza, luncheon meats, sausage or hot dogs (which contain nitrates), caffeine-containing foods and beverages including chocolate, teas, coffee, colas; and monosodium glutamate (MSG)-containing foods like oriental foods. Remembering what foods were eaten before the migraine attack may help identify potential food triggers so they can be avoided
- Dehydration - and not drinking enough water
- Caffeine – Too much caffeine or withdrawal from caffeine (suddenly having less caffeine than usual) can trigger a migraine.
What are the symptoms of migraine?
Every migraine begins differently. Sometimes kids and teens get a warning that a migraine is on its way. This is known as an aura and it is a warning sign that a migraine is about to begin.
The most common auras are visual and include blurred or distorted vision, blind spots, or brightly coloured, flashing or moving lights or lines. Sometimes you might feel tingling in a part of the face or smell a certain odour. Auras usually last for about 20 minutes.
Symptoms of migraine can vary from person to person, but general symptoms include:
- Pounding or throbbing head pain. In children, the pain usually affects the front or both sides of the head.
- Sensitivity to light
- Sensitivity to sound
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Abdominal discomfort
- Pale skin colour
- Feeling irritable, moody
- Loss of appetite
Managing a migraine
There is no cure for migraine – treatment is about controlling symptoms and preventing further headaches.
At the first sign of a migraine attack, your child should relax in a quiet and dark room. Most headaches will go away after rest or sleep. Watching TV or reading while having a headache can make it worse. Anything that has triggered a migraine in the past should be avoided as far as possible.
Over-the-counter pain-relief medications such as Paracetamol and ibuprofen are often effective for mild migraine headaches. Make sure that you follow the dosage instructions.
Put a cold, moist cloth or ice pack on the part of the head that hurts. Put a thin cloth between the ice and your child's skin. Do not use heat—it can make the pain worse. Gently massaging your child's neck and shoulders can sometimes help in relieving the pain.
Call your doctor or seek immediate medical care if:
- Your child has a very painful, sudden headache that is unlike any he or she has had before.
- Your child has a fever with a stiff neck.
- Your child has a headache with sudden weakness, numbness, inability to move parts of his or her body, visual problems, slurred speech, confusion, or behaviour changes.
- Your child has headaches after a recent fall or blow to the head.
- Your child's headaches become more painful or frequent.
- Your child's headache does not go away as expected.
Can migraines be prevented?
Not all migraines can be prevented. But learning more about what trigger migraines in your children and avoiding them can help in preventing migraines to an extent.
For example, if you notice that eating cheese causes your child to have migraines, make sure that he/she avoids it. Also, ensure that your child drinks 4 to 8 glasses of fluids a day. Avoid drinks that have caffeine. Many popular soda drinks contain caffeine.
Make sure that your child does not skip meals, especially breakfast. Provide regular, healthy meals.
Make sure that your child gets plenty of sleep. Most children need to sleep 8 to 10 hours each night.
Limiting screen time, and encouraging regular exercise and outdoor play can reduce stress and make your child feel better. Keep your child away from smoke. Do not smoke or let anyone else smoke around your child or in your house.
Also, help your child to plan out school work and assignments so he or she doesn't get too overwhelmed with stress.