Returning to school may also mean a return of headaches in children who tend to get them, doctors say.
More than one-third of children experience recurrent headaches, involving pain that occurs more than once a month, according to pediatricians at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.
Most children have tension headaches, the most common type of headache, often described as a dull or diffuse pain in the head, neck and scalp. But about one-quarter of headaches in children are migraines, a more severe pain that often runs in families, according to information in a news release from the hospital.
Migraines, often described as throbbing or pounding, tend to get worse with physical activity. These headaches may be accompanied by nausea or vomiting, and may be disruptive enough to cause children to miss school or other activities.
Though the precise causes of headaches are unknown, changes in a child’s sleep schedule and the demands of adjusting to a new school year (including academic responsibilities and social pressures to make new friends) may increase stress and consequently, headaches, experts say.
To decrease the likelihood your child will develop tension headaches, pediatricians recommend children begin going to bed earlier and following a more school-like sleep routine two weeks prior to their first day back.
Children with migraines should follow the same advice, though they may need closer monitoring, said Dr. Ann Pakalnis, a neurologist at Nationwide Children’s Hospital.
Research published in the journal Headache found teenagers prone to migraines may be more likely to have sleep or emotional disorders. As headaches grew more frequent, sleep disorders and mild depression also became more prevalent, the study authors noted.
“Our study indicates that patients with migraines should be monitored for sleep and emotional disorders,” said Pakalnis, a faculty member at Ohio State University College of Medicine. “These findings suggest that factors such as frequent migraines may play a role in the occurrence of these disorders.”
In the study, regular caffeine consumption was also associated with reports of depression and sleep difficulties. Limiting caffeine may also improve sleep and mood issues and lessen the frequency of migraines, Pakalnis said.
To help avoid migraines, parents should also make sure children eat regular, balanced meals and are staying properly hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids.
During a migraine attack, over-the-counter pain medicines such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen can help, but parents should keep tabs on the dosage their older children are taking. Overuse of analgesics could indicate a more severe condition and over time, can make it more difficult to manage pain, Pakalnis said.
If a healthy diet and sleep schedule doesn’t help reduce migraine frequency, parents should take their child to see their pediatrician, who may prescribe a triptan, prescription drugs used to treat migraines. While there are several brands of triptans on the market, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved only one for use in adolescents.
Children whose headaches occur in the back of the head, who get headaches only in the morning, who experience nausea or whose headaches get progressively worse or suddenly deviate from their usual pattern should also see their doctor, the researchers added.