How to Help Your Child With Migraines

May 11, 2022

mom consoling daughter holding forehead

Headaches affect millions of people every day, including kids of all ages. A common type of headache in children and teenagers is migraine headache — a more severe headache that can be accompanied by nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light, sound, smells and motion. Some people experience neurological symptoms such as changes in vision or feelings of numbness and tingling of the body.

As a parent, it’s hard to watch your child in pain. Try out the techniques below to help care for your child’s migraines.

Avoid Migraine Triggers

Triggers can cause your child to have a migraine. Some common triggers include:

  • Too much or too little sleep
  • High levels of stress
  • Not drinking enough water
  • Weather changes, like extreme heat or cold, sudden storms, or very dry air

Can diet cause migraines?

As a parent, you may wonder if your child’s diet can cause a migraine headache. So far, scientists have not been able to prove the link between eating certain foods or found enough evidence to recommend specific diets for migraine sufferers. However, many people report foods as a trigger for their migraine, and some studies suggest that consuming less of the following foods may help reduce migraine attacks:

  • Fried foods
  • Dairy products
  • Caffeine
  • Processed foods (e.g., white bread and processed meat)

Some people find that eliminating a specific food from their diet, if they suspect it may be a trigger for their headaches, may be beneficial.

If you suspect food triggers, talk to your pediatrician before eliminating a specific food from your child’s diet in order to ensure they still receive all the nutrition they need for their growth.

How can I help my child prevent migraines?

To help your child avoid migraine triggers, you can do the following:

  • Keep a journal. Keep a migraine journal and write down information about your child’s migraine, such as how long it lasts and how much it hurts.
  • Write down activities before their migraine starts. What they eat, drink, how much sleep they get, and what activities they do before they have a migraine. Over time, you might see a pattern that reveals a migraine trigger.

Once you know what triggers your child’s migraines, you should avoid that trigger as much as possible. 

Start Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive behavioral therapy is a type of talk therapy that gives your child the tools and skills they need to relax. The therapist will help your child learn to cope with pain, reduce stress and use positive thinking. Studies show that CBT, combined with migraine medicines, is more effective than medicine alone in reducing migraines.

Provide Comfort During Migraines

It can be hard to stop a migraine once it starts. You can comfort your child by:

  • Avoiding screens or bright lights
  • Encouraging your child to rest in a quiet, dark room
  • Letting them sleep, if they can, since sleep often stops migraines
  • Offering water and a healthy snack
  • Placing a cold compress on their forehead

You know your child best. You should provide comfort however they prefer, whether it is lying with them and rubbing their back or playing soft, relaxing music.

Pain medications, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, can be very helpful to relieve migraine headaches. It is important to give an amount that is appropriate for the age and weight of your child.

Be careful not to use pain medication more than 2-3 days per week, as frequent use of pain medication can lead to worsening headache, a condition known as “analgesic overuse headache”. Frequent headaches often require different treatments prescribed by your pediatrician or by a pediatric neurologist.

See a Pediatric Neurologist

A pediatric neurologist specializes in caring for conditions like migraines and headaches. They can help you figure out your child’s migraine triggers and determine if your child needs medicine for their migraines. They might take a medication to prevent migraines or medicine that helps stop a migraine once it starts.

At Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital, our board-certified pediatric neurologists are specially trained to care for kids. They are dedicated to helping stop or reduce migraines in children so they can go to school, play sports and be with their friends. Learn more about our pediatric neurology services.