The pain of migraine: Children are just as susceptible

The pain of migraine: Children are just as susceptible

Children are as susceptible to these severe ‘headaches’ as adults and symptoms can include vomiting and light sensitivity, says Nuala Woulfe

In Ireland, 700,000 people suffer migraine, but what’s often overlooked is that children are also susceptible to this debilitating condition. Symptoms can appear, or worsen, during the early weeks of the school year. The Migraine Association of Ireland is launching an information campaign for schools, parents, and sports coaches this September. A conference is being held in Dublin this month to discuss headache and migraine.

Debbie Hutchinson, communications and information officer of the Migraine Association of Ireland, says they often receive calls from anxious parents, whose children might be experiencing migraine for the first time.

“We see it most in first-year girls. Schools often try their best to make the transition from primary as easy as possible, but there’s a lot of change: longer days, different teachers, finding classes, finding lockers, and then, around age 12 is when lots of girls are starting periods; there are stress and hormonal aspects to migraine,” she says.

Migraine is not ‘just a bad headache’. Symptoms can include nausea, vomiting, visual disturbances, sensitivity to light and sound, and even vertigo. With the shift from summer to autumn and the return to school, parents are reminded that new routines and sleep patterns can be triggers, as can skipping breakfast.

Recurring ‘funny tummy’ in a younger child reluctant to go to school might also warrant investigation. Migraine can be hereditary and colic in babies is a potential indicator of future migraine, as are car sickness and stomach complaints that can’t be attributed to any other source.

In early childhood, more boys suffer, but by secondary school the majority of sufferers are female. 10% of all primary school children get a migraine, but up to 15% of secondary school children. Children need special care when having a bout of migraine, especially if they’re at school and not with their parents.

on September 24/25, the Migraine Association of Ireland is holding two courses on migraine concussion and post-traumatic headache in children and teens.

It is for “parents, teachers, and sport coaches to identify migraine in children and how they can support and care for them,” says Ms Hutchinson. The courses will emphasise that children with migraine are more susceptible to complications from concussion.

A 2017 report by the European Brain Council reveals that Europe loses 400,000 days from work or school every year to migraine, for every million of the population. A migraine can last from a few hours to a few days, although younger children often recover more quickly than adults. For sufferers, even changes in the weather can bring on an attack.

“Parents who have kids with migraine might not be able to leave work, but there might not be somewhere for kids to pull the curtains in school or even put their head down,” says Ms Hutchinson, who adds, unfortunately, that schools aren’t always the best environment for sufferers.

Schools can be too hot, have poor ventilation, even smells from a science lab could trigger an attack. Then there’s a lot of whiteboards and many schools have switched to screens and I-pads, instead of books; people with migraine often want to escape to a darkened room with no stimulation.

“If you have a child with an allergy or epilepsy, teachers are more aware. There’d be a plan of action, they’re taken more seriously,” Ms Hutchinson adds.

Migraine expert Dr Mary Kearney is one of the authors of ‘Migraine: Diagnosis and Management from a GP Perspective,’ a new, quick guide for doctors and the public, which is available for free at www.icgp.ie. Although there are many possible triggers of migraine, stress is a common factor, Dr Kearney says.

“Life goes at a faster pace than years ago, maybe especially for teens.” Contraceptive pills can also be a trigger and “a third of migraine sufferers who go on the pill can get migraine; some might not know they’re even susceptible,” Dr Kearney says. The American Migraine Association also warns that alcohol can be a migraine trigger.

The world’s leading organisation of headache experts, The International Headache Society, will meet in Dublin this September 5-8 to discuss awareness and treatment options. But neurological migraine specialist, Dr Patricia Pozo Rosich, who is presenting at the conference, told the Irish Examiner that, unfortunately, “in general, migraine is under-diagnosed and under-treated.”

Dr Rosich was part of a 2018 migraine study of Spanish teens, which showed that while headache is one of the most common neurological disorders in European adolescents, especially females, still, “there’s little information about prevalence and impact.”

Dr Pozo Rosich’s study concludes that “chronic migraine could be minimised with educational strategies that should start during the teenage years.” This makes sense as, “a better knowledge of the prevalence, impact, and lifestyle of adolescent headache sufferers might enable us to change the impact that headache and migraine have in adults.”

For September events, seemigraine.ie/

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