What can I do to prevent my child's migraines?

What can I do to prevent my child's migraines?

Migraines and recurrent headaches aren't just a problem of adult women. Between 5 and 10% of children get migraine headaches; half of these children get them regularly. Young children, both boys and girls, can suffer from migraines, sometimes starting as early as kindergarten. Migraines have a strong tendency to run in families. They can be mild and occasional and not cause the child much distress. They can also be debilitating and severe, causing the child to miss a lot of school.

While being 100% headache free may not be a reasonable expectation, a lot can be done so that children don't have to miss school or play because of headaches. Medications to treat and/or prevent migraines are now available, even for young children.

One of the best things you can do to prevent migraines, without medications, is discover and avoid your child's headache triggers. Keeping a headache diary will allow you to see what kinds of foods, situations, and other triggers are linked to your child's migraines.

What foods can trigger headaches?

Foods that contain certain natural or synthetic chemicals can trigger migraines in some people. The following are common headache triggers. However, not every food listed here will necessarily cause you or your child to have migraines. So cutting out all of these foods at once is probably an unnecessary first step. When your child complains of a headache, think about whether he or she has had any of the following to eat in the preceding 12 hours:

  • Chocolate
  • Caffeine in soda, tea, and coffee
  • Cheese and cheese products, especially blue cheese and smoked cheese
  • Meats which are "processed" such as lunch meats and hot dogs
  • Soy sauce
  • Meats which are "smoked" that contain nitrates
  • Apple juice and apple cider
  • Dried or processed fruit, such as maraschino cherries
  • Preserved or pickled vegetables, such as pickles, olives, and sauerkraut
  • Nuts and nut-containing foods, such as peanut butter
  • Breads containing yeast
  • Seafood products, especially shellfish
  •  Ice cream or very cold foods
  • Alcohol

Read food labels carefully. Processed foods especially may contain the following chemicals, which are known to trigger migraines:

  • Tyramine
  • Phenylethylamine
  • Tannin
  • Sulfites
  • Nitrates
  • Monosodium glutamate (MSG)

What situations can trigger headaches?

Any significant deviation from a young person's normal routine can cause headaches. Some of the most common causes include:

  • Too much sun or intense light
  • Too much noise
  •  Sleeping too little or too much
  • Physical exertion (lifting heavy objects or hard bowel movements)
  • Motion: traveling in a car or on an airplane
  • Changes in hormones (from growing or menstruation)
  • Smelling certain odors, such as perfume or cigarette smoke
  • Eating too little, or fasting

What medications can trigger headaches?

There's a long list. Not every medication listed here will trigger headaches in every person. Here are some of the most common, both prescription and over-the-counter:

  • Birth control pills
  • Steroids, like prednisone and dexamethasone
  • Antihistamines, like Claritin and Zyrtec
  • Decongestants, like Sudafed
  • Headache and migraine medications, like triptans (Imitrex, Maxalt)
  • Pain medications like narcotics
  • Some blood pressure medications
  • Vitamin supplements (usually vitamin A and D)
  • Asthma medications, like albuterol
  • Medications used for psychiatric and behavior issues, like Risperdal, Abilify, Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil, Adderall, Ritalin, and many others
  • Some antibiotics, like tetracycline, doxycycline, amoxicillin, Septra, Flagyl
  • Medications for nausea and vomiting (Zofran) or acid blockers (Zantac, Pepcid)

What about stress?

It's probably no surprise that stressful situations can provoke headaches. Often the headaches erupt after the stress has stopped, so you may not realize that they're connected. Frequently, the stresses children list are:

  • Excessive workload at school
  • Poor school performance
  • Unhealthy competition (at school or home)
  • Death or divorce of parents
  • Financial problems