Back-to-School Headaches and Migraine Attacks

Written by Kerrie Smyres on 1st Sep 2015

Back-to-school time could mean an increase in your child’s headache or migraine attack (including abdominal migraine) frequency. Parents, teachers, and school nurses sometimes dismiss these complaints as an excuse to get out of school because symptoms:

  • are invisible and can’t be verified with a thermometer
  • often happen early in the week
  • may come on suddenly and let up suddenly

Please take the child seriously! Studies show that children tend to have more headaches and migraine attacks during the school year. While not all the reasons for this are known, some triggers are common during the school year. They include:

  • stress
  • changes to routines
  • inconsistent sleep schedules or inadequate sleep
  • increased screen time
  • fluorescent lighting
  • less exercise
  • caffeine
  • reduced water intake (leading to dehydration)

After hearing parents say that their child’s or teenager’s headaches and migraine attack increased during the school year, doctors at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Ohio decided to look into an issue. By analyzing 1,300 emergency room records from 2010-2014, they confirmed that ER visits for headaches and migraines increase in the fall for children and teenagers from ages five to 18.

Fortunately, many of the reasons for an increase in migraine attacks can be managed through lifestyle changes. It’s important for children and teenagers to:

  • Learn stress management techniques (biofeedback is a great way to do this; ask your doctor for details)
  • Stay on a consistent sleep schedule (even on the weekends)
  • Eat three regular meals each day
  • Exercise consistently
  • Limit caffeine intake
  • Drink water throughout the day

While avoiding screens altogether and turning off artificial lights would be the ideal solution for managing these triggers, that’s impractical in modern society. TheraSpecs are a great solution. Some people need to wear TheraSpecs all the time to manage light triggers, but many only need them while on the computer. TheraSpecs Junior are a great for young children, while older children and teenagers can wear any style. You can also send in your own frame for a custom pair for any age.

Remember that over-the-counter painkillers can provide relief, but can actually increase headache and migraine attack frequency if taken too often. (The general guideline is no more than 10 doses per month.)

If a child’s headaches are interfering with daily life, it’s important for them to be evaluated by a doctor. Having the right diagnosis makes it easier to find effective treatment. And remember that lifestyle management can provide enormous relief for many people, but some need additional treatment.

Headaches and migraine attacks look like a perfect excuse to get out of class. Unfortunately, this obscures the fact that they are real and can be debilitating. Managing triggers and seeing a good doctor will save your child from much pain, both now and as they grow up.



Nationwide Children's Hospital press release. More Evidence Supports that Kids’ Headaches Increase at Back-to-School Time. Aug. 17, 2015. Retrieved on Aug. 29, 2015. 

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