Lea still remembers her first bad headache and she was all of 10 then. “It was really scary and unbearable,” she recollects, with a grin. Initially, she had no idea what was happening to her. The terrorising headaches struck again, first once a month, then once a week. A quick visit to a paediatrician disclosed that Lea had migraine!
Migraine is the worst kind of headache. It's a neurological disease accompanied by a constant throbbing pain on one or both sides of the head. We, as adults, have a nightmarish experience with it and just imagine, the little ones, and what they go through with it.
Dr. Vani Sivaji, a Paediatric Neurologist at Apollo Children’s Hospital, Chennai, lists out a basic list of triggers, symptoms and treatments to guide parents and care-takers in helping their children counter the migraine menace.
A migraine attack is different for every child. Some of the common symptoms that most children suffer from are:
- Throbbing or a pounding headache
- Distorted vision
- Nausea and vomiting
- Aura - Migraine generally starts with an aura. It is a weird feeling
- of nausea, blurry vision and a heavy head
- Sensitivity to light, noise or smell
- Early morning sickness
- Abdominal pain
Migraine is an unpredictable condition. Identifying triggers can go a long way in handling migraine attacks in children.
Sleep: Disturbance in sleep pattern can cause migraine in children. This includes both lack of sleep and too much sleep.
Flu: Many children suffer from migraine when they are down with flu or fever. Several young girls experience migraine at the start of their monthly menstrual period.
Computer: Too much time in front of the computer and television can also be a migraine instigator.
Dehydration: Inadequate fluid intake is a common trigger for migraine. Dizziness, fatigue, and increased heart rate are symptoms of dehydration.
Diet: Eating certain food items can also be a cause. Skipping meals can also cause an attack in some cases. Monitoring diet and identifying food triggers can help in handling a migraine attack better.
Weather: For some children, exposure to sunlight or change in weather conditions can start a migraine episode.
Stress: This is a major trigger. Exam stress, peer pressure and family environment are the some of the main sources of stress in children.
Exercise: For some children, physical exercises such as running, jogging, swimming etc. can trigger a migraine attack.
Related content: Ways to help your child manage stress
Diagnosing migraine is a difficult process. Maintaining a migraine dairy can help in keeping track of the triggers, duration of each migraine episode and the treatment process. There are essentially four types of commonly-followed treatment options for migraine attacks in children:
Medication taken to relieve the pain, disable an attack and stop it from developing, is known as ‘acute treatment’. In many children, treating a migraine early can lead to recovery in less than an hour.
Specific anti-migraine drugs
Sometimes, a child may still have a severe headache, even after following the acute treatment steps. In such cases, a doctor may prescribe specific anti-migraine drugs. Your child’s paediatrician will talk to you about the best time to take them.
This can be used if your child’s acute treatment does not work. Anti-nausea (anti-emetic) medicine to stop sickness, coupled with anti-inflammatory or pain-relieving medication may be prescribed.
Some children may continue to have disabling headaches even after changing their lifestyle and taking acute treatments. If this is the case, you need to talk to a doctor about the possibility of using preventive medication, to try and stop the headaches from happening.
Beware of wrong diagnosis
Migraine is often diagnosed incorrectly. Conditions like - Sinusitis, Astigmatism and in severe cases, Meningitis and Tumors can often be confused with migraine, and vice-versa.
Change in lifestyle a long-term solution
Lifestyle changes go a long way in helping a child deal with migraine. Anjana Menon, a 29-year-old photographer, suffered from migraine attacks since the age of 13. She says, “Following a set routine like eating and sleeping on time, regular exercises, less exertion helped me fight migraine immensely.” It really helps if you can set an example for your child from the word go. Healthy eating habits and a balanced lifestyle will eventually serve as the ‘best medicine’.
Exercise and Yoga
Yoga is a natural remedy that helps in curtailing migraine. Suchi Dinesh, a yoga trainer in Chennai with over 16 years of experience, conducts classes for children who suffer from migraine. She explains the different types of asanas that can help in regulating pain. All the asanas mentioned below calm the nervous system and redirect the flow of blood to the brain, thus helping in pain relief.
- Pranayama (Breathing exercises)
- Hasta Padasana (Forward-bending posture)
- Setu Bandhasana (Bridge posture)
- Balasana (Child’s posture)
- Adhi Mukhasana (Downward dog posture)
- Shavasana (Corpse posture)
Suchi advises children to practice yoga at least 3 times a week initially. Parents can monitor the exercises and gradually increase it to 7 days a week.
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A child suffering from migraine needs to have a strong support system. Immediate family and teachers should be made aware of his condition. Sometimes, having a child with migraine can cause strain within the family. It is therefore important that the whole family talks together about these feelings, so the child is not labelled as being different or troublesome. At the end of the day, don’t we all want happy smiles rather than painful headaches?
Harsha Sajnani Ganeriwala is a freelance writer from Chennai. Additional Inputs from www.migrainetrust.org
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