Treating a Child Headache
Migraines are most common in adults, particularly women, but children are also prone to migraines.
Migraines are not caused by stress or tension, like tension headaches, but rather as the result of an intricate biochemical process involving the constriction and expanding of blood vessels in the brain. It is estimated that as many as 5% of children are affected by migraine. Girls and boys are equally affected by migraines when they are very young. During puberty there is a shift towards females suffering more than males. Changes to hormones are the main reason for the shift in teenage girls.
The diagnosis of migraines in children is a process of trial and error but migraines may be diagnosed in children as young as 4 years of age. Usually migraines are diagnosed as the cause of headaches only after ruling out more serious causes. In addition, a comprehensive family medical history should be provided and studied, and both a general physical and neurological examination can be expected before an accurate migraine diagnosis can be determined.
Motion Sickness – most children who suffer with migraines will have inherited the illness. If your child experiences any kind of motion sickness, like ‘car sickness’, consider whether there is any family history of migraines. Motion sickness is often perceived as an early indicator of the possibility of developing migraines later in life.
In addition, kids who develop migraines experience colic, nightmares or disturbances in sleeping patterns. The throbbing pain experienced by a child’s migraine is often intense enough to interfere with school and other daily activities. You should also be aware that physical activity can exacerbate the situation so make sure your child’s school PE teacher is aware of your child’s condition.
Child Headache – associated problems
As with adult migraines, auras may or may not accompany a child’s headache. Auras are visual experiences such as flashing points of lights, zigzagging lights, etc. Unlike migraines in adults, however, the duration of migraines usually last no more than three or four hours. Some extreme child migraines can be very upsetting for the parents. They may be accompanied by temporary neurological problems such as an inability to speak, a loss of sensation or even, in rare cases, a loss of consciousness.
Specific to migraines in children is the so-called ” Alice in Wonderland” Syndrome. This syndrome involves hallucinations that distort images and shapes, or sometimes cause objects to appear larger or smaller. In fact, one theory has it that Lewis Carroll himself, the author of Alice in Wonderland, suffered from migraines and that the bizarre occurrences described in his children’s classic are drawn from his own childhood.
Child Headache – treatment
The treatment of children’s migraines often includes the use of medications. Most children benefit from acetaminophen (Tylenol and other brands), or anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen. However, you should seriously consider consulting your doctor before giving any pain killers to a child.
Some medications are used to prevent or lessen the frequency of migraines, while others are used for immediate pain relief. Children can be involved in treatment by keeping a diary of their headaches which may help them to identify the ‘trigger’ factors. They can plan for rest (headaches may be relieved by sleep) and learn to manage stress. Studies have shown that the frequency of migraines may be lessened by the use of biofeedback, relaxation techniques and acupuncture.
In addition, you may want to look into the many therapies that are available such as stress biofeedback, meditation and stress management. These approaches shouldn’t take the place of any prescribed medication; they can work in conjunction with medical treatment. Also, don’t underestimate the importance of good nutrition, sticking to a sound sleep routine and making sure the child gets enough exercise.
Child Headache – summary
If you suspect that your child may be experiencing migraines, consider making an appointment with your pediatrician after first keeping a migraine journal in which you recorded the following information:
Where on the head was the pain located?
How many headaches your child has each week?
How long the headaches last?
How painful were the headaches?
Do your child’s headaches affect his/her normal activity?
Did any foods, drinks or activities seem to set them off?
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