When back-to-school spells headaches, healthy lifestyle habits can help.
For many children, the academic and social pressures of going back to school can add up to major stress and headaches.
“It’s common for parents to suddenly hear their children complaining of headaches at this time of year,” says Cleveland Clinic pediatric headache specialist A. David Rothner, MD.
Like adults, children can experience two headache patterns: migraine or tension/chronic headaches.
Dr. Rothner says parents can easily recognize these signs of migraine, a severe, occasional headache: • Looking pale • Acting grouchy • Being bothered by light and noise • Not wanting to eat, nausea and vomiting
For most children, the migraine ends within two hours on its own or with simple analgesics such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen. “Many kids fall asleep, which almost invariably ends the migraine,” adds Dr. Rothner.
Tension/chronic headaches are milder, more frequent headaches that don’t bring on the nausea or other features of migraine.
About 1 percent of youngsters develop chronic headaches. “Youngsters with chronic daily headaches seem to be extraordinarily sensitive to the start of school and the associated stress, and typically fare the worst,” says Dr. Rothner.
To help minimize the likelihood of headache, encourage your child to: • Eat three meals a day with healthy snacks in
between. • Drink at least six 8-ounce glasses of water daily. • Be physically active or exercise at least three
times a week. • Sleep at least eight hours every night. • Eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, whole
grains and lean protein.
Keep an eye on how much over-the-counter pain medication your child is taking. “We try to limit children who use pain relievers like ibuprofen or acetaminophen to taking them twice a day, two days a week,” explains Dr. Rothner. “More frequent use can lead to ‘rebound’ headaches that are worse.”
Parents can learn a lot by talking with their child to identify any stressors related to school, academics or bullying, and creating strategies to help cope with these stressors.
Also, watch for “red flags” – overusing medication or missing too much school – that should prompt a visit to your pediatrician or family physician.
If needed, your physician can refer your child to a pediatric neurologist with expertise in headaches. For an appointment with Dr. Rothner or any pediatric neurologist, call 866.588.2264. Cleveland Clinic offers same-day appointments.
A. David Rothner, MD