What to Do if Your Kid Has Migraines

Diet and lifestyle changes can help prevent attacks

Child with headache

Migraines aren’t just a headache for adults. It’s estimated that nearly 10 percent of American kids aged 5 to 13 suffer from childhood migraines. And, like adults, they can suffer blurred vision and nausea along with the painful throbbing.

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So how do you tell if your child is suffering a migraine and not just a bad headache? And what can you do about it?

Signs young children may be experiencing a migraine

A. David Rothner, MD, treats kids with migraines at Cleveland Clinic. He says that in young children the headaches typically develop right after school.

Dr. Rothner says the problem may be a migraine if your child comes home from school and you notice the child:

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  • Wants to go straight to bed — with all the lights out
  • Doesn’t want to watch TV or play video games
  • Doesn’t want to eat
  • Is pale and has rings under his eyes

Common migraine symptoms

Similar to adults, common migraine symptoms for children and adolescents include:

  • Sensitivity to light and noise
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Blurred vision and dizziness
  • Very warm or very cold sensation
  • Fatigue

Avoiding triggers can reduce migraine risk

Stress, lack of sleep, bright lights and noise may trigger migraines in kids. Food and drink may also contain chemicals and substances that can cause dilation of blood vessels that sends a pain message to the brain.

Parents should note what their kids ate if they experience a migraine afterward. Possible culprits include chocolate, caffeine, lunchmeats and aged cheese (like cheddar). Foods with monosodium glutamate (MSG) can also trigger migraines.

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Lifestyle changes can help, too

Medication and sleep will often relieve the pain but it may also take some lifestyle changes to prevent more childhood migraine trouble. Trying to beat migraines with over-the-counter pain killers exclusively isn’t the answer.

“When I see a child with significant migraine they’re missing a lot of school,” says Dr. Rothner. “They’re overusing over-the-counter medicine.” Dr. Rothner suggests parents can reduce the risks of migraine attacks in their kids by making sure they:

  • Get eight hours of sleep
  • Drink four to six glasses of water a day
  • Start an exercise program

Talk to your pediatrician about all your options for treating your child’s migraines. A variety of therapies and medications that treat both the headache pain and nausea are available, as well as preventive medications.

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