It’s a typical school day morning, your child is moving as slow as a snail and you’re about to lose your patience with her. Then, your she says her head hurts. You check her temperature – no fever. Is this just a headache or something else? According to Blount Memorial Physicians Group neurologist Dr. Christine Hagen, a United Council for Neurologic Subspecialties-certified headache specialist, one in 11 kids get headaches. Tension headaches are the most common in children and are most often related to stress or mental or emotional conflict. Most headaches can be treated with over-the-counter pain medications, such as Tylenol or ibuprofen, and go away on their own. Chronic daily headaches – or those that occur more than 15 days a month – could be caused by an infection, a minor head injury or by taking pain medications too often.
In addition to the typical headache, 10 percent of kids experience migraines. “It is a genetic disease that starts in childhood for many people,” Hagen said. A lot of these go undiagnosed and untreated. Why? Migraines can impact kids differently than adults, and sometimes it is hard to determine if what they’re experiencing really is a migraine. They can experience pain on both sides or just the front, as opposed to adults who usually experience pain on one side. Children’s’ migraine attacks are often shorter in duration than in adults, but can last one hour to several days. By age 10, one in 20 kids will suffer from migraines. During puberty, migraine cases tend to increase. Since migraines are a genetic disease, if one or both parents have had migraines, there is a 50-75 percent chance their child will experiencing them, too.
So, how do you know when it’s time to take your child to the doctor? The Mayo Clinic advises if a headache wakes your child from sleep, if it becomes worse or more frequent, if it changes the child’s personality, if there has been an injury, if it causes vomiting or vision changes, or if the headache is accompanied by a fever and neck pain or stiffness, it’s time to bring him or her in for an office visit. According to the American Migraine Foundation, “migraine is not just a headache; it’s a disabling neurological disease.”
What can you as a parent do? Young kids may not know how to tell their parent what’s going on, but if they want to be in a dark, quiet room, that may suggest light or sound sensitivity. Also, a decreased appetite may signal nausea. The American Migraine Foundation suggests that an overall healthy lifestyle will help manage migraines in children. This includes reducing sensory overload, getting adequate sleep, hydrating, and regular meals and exercise. Keeping a headache log to record symptoms and triggers also is a good idea. Children having one migraine attack per week usually will need additional medicine to help reduce the frequency or severity of their migraines. “I think it is important to know that kids do get headaches, and it is not a disease that just starts at age 18,” Hagen said. “There may be something out there that really makes a big difference in their quality of life and reduce their hours of disability.”
For more information about treatments for headaches and migraines in children, or to make an appointment with Dr. Hagen, call 865-238-6471.