Migraine in Children at Christmas

By 2 December 2020MAI News

Christmas is supposed to be a time for cheer and happiness, excitement and anticipation, with colourful lights, cheerful music and everyone buying gifts for their friends and loved ones. For many of us, Christmas is like this, but for migraineurs it can be a trying time. Not just for parents with migraine but for children with migraine.

How does Migraine in Children manifest?

Migraine in children is usually different than in adults. There may be no headache at all, but they may get stomach problems, nausea, and vomiting! This can make the diagnosis of migraine difficult and often leads to adults accusing the child of trying to get out of going to school or doing their homework. The headache, if it is there, is usually on both sides of the head, whereas in adults the head pain is one sided.

Travel sickness can often be an early indicator of migraine.

What about triggers?

Like adults, Children have different triggers, but it can be difficult for young children especially to figure them out. The best way to do this is to keep a migraine diary!

Sometimes little children find this difficult, so it can be helpful for a parent to keep one with them. As well as capturing as much information as possible, it can also help the child to feel less odd or isolated about having to do it, if they’re the only one they know with migraine.

Write down everything you can think of about the day of the migraine attack and maybe a day or two before.

  • What they ate and drank
  • What the weather was like
  • How long they slept or in were bed
  • Did they watch a lot of television?
  • Were they on their computer/tablet/phone for long?
  • Did anything happen at school (like a test/Christmas Party)?
  • Were they excited or stressed?
  • Anything else you can think of

If their head hurts, get them to describe how badly it hurts from 1 – 10. Keep the diary for 3 or 4 migraine attacks and you might start to see that the same things happen every time they get a migraine, and a pattern emerging.

Why can Christmas be a problem?

Christmas is a time for triggers and that is what can turn it into a nightmare for anyone with migraine. Children are off school, out of their regular routines, excited about seeing Santa, spending a lot more time watching TV and playing games on their devices than they would normally. They are also being exposed to more flashing lights, loud music and crowds than at other times of the year.

This year too is the added stress and worry of the pandemic, with possible changes to the Christmas celebrations and traditions we all know and love, adding to the pressure and uncertainty. All of these things can combine to turn Christmas into a nightmare for children, and subsequently for parents and guardians.

What can be done?

Aside from keeping the diary and watching for patterns and triggers, watch your child for signs that they may be going to have an attack. Make other family members and siblings aware of some warning signs that may occur before the attack.

These signs may include:

    • Tiredness
    • Yawning
    • Looking paler than usual
    • Mood changes – are they quieter or more irritable than they normally are?
    • Pain in muscles
    • Confusion
    • Food cravings
To help keep Children migraine-free this Christmas,
  • Try to keep them to a good sleep routine as much as possible – no late mornings or late nights (aside from the Toy Show)
  • Try to get them to eat regularly – no skipping meals, especially before active play or sports.
  • Use food rich in magnesium, vitamin B2 and coenzyme Q10 where possible
  • Keep them hydrated as much as possible
  • Avoid any known triggers
  • Try to avoid too much of the good stuff as additives are possible trigger culprits
  • Try some calming exercises with them. Websites like Relax Kids have some good products and Green Child Magazine have some free relaxation scripts for children
  • Download a mindfulness app for kids like Headspace for Kids
  • Do some crafts with them – like making Christmas cards for relations, or making decorations for the house to keep them distracted
  • Keep medication on hand – Speak to your pharmacist and GP before Christmas about all of your options (prescription and non-prescription) should your child have a bad attack over the festive season
If an attack does begin

  • Lie your child down in a dark, quiet place with a warm or cold pack for their head. Some children react better to heat, others to cold.
  • If your GP or pharmacist has said they can use an anti-nausea medication, then use this a few minutes before the pain medication. It might help prevent vomiting up of other medications
  • Use the medication your GP or pharmacist has given your child as early as possible in the attack – If vomiting is a regular feature of your child’s migraine, ask your GP to prescribe any medication in a soluble, liquid, or nasal spray format so that it will be absorbed and get to work faster
  • Let your child know that it’s okay if they do get sick. Have a basin or bowl beside them ready for it
  • If they can tolerate the smell have a tissue or cloth with a few drops of peppermint or lavender oil on a nightstand nearby
  • Try to get them to sleep, even for a short time. Sleep often helps them to recover, sometimes as little as 10 minutes can make the difference
  • If your child’s pain and other symptoms are not going away, don’t be afraid to bring them to A & E or contact the Out-of-Hours doctor – Have your local number handy or in your phone

Many of the above tips can cross the age barriers as adults can experience the same symptoms as children.

Migraine is estimated to be hereditary in 60% of cases, therefore if you have a history of migraine in the family at all, be it with grandparents, parents, aunts, cousins, siblings, etc., you should look out for signs of migraine in your children.