Coping with Migraines at School: An Action Plan for Relief

Migraine pain in a school environment can affect your child's education

Help Your Child Manage Her Migraines at School
Help Your Child Manage Her Migraines at School. Tang Ming Tung/Getty Images

For the 5 percent of grade-school-aged children and 20 percent of teenagers who have migraines, school can present a unique challenge.

You can be most helpful by working closely with your child and the school to develop a three-part plan that includes trigger avoidance, early symptom identification, and a clear action plan.

Avoid Triggers for Migraines at School

The first step to ensuring your child isn't too negatively affected by their migraines is by identifying and controlling any specific factors that may lead to a migraine.

In order to accurately identify what kinds of things make your child vulnerable to a migraine headache, consider keeping a journal that tracks various conditions, times, and locations that may be migraine triggers. Once you've identified your child's triggers, you can work to control them, hopefully thereby reducing migraine frequency. Share your findings with school personnel too, as well as your child.

Strategies Stave Off Migraines at School

Use the following steps to help avoid common migraine triggers and control migraines in school:

  • Get adequate sleep every night. According to the National Sleep Foundation, children ages 5 to 12 need 10 to 11 hours of sleep nightly, whereas teenagers need 8½ to 9¼ hours nightly.
  • Maintain a consistent daily routine and sleep schedule, even on the weekends.
  • Get ready for school in a calm way every morning. Because some experts believe that stress can either bring on or complicate the treatment of migraines, plan ahead to cut down on the morning frenzy. Consider taking time the night before to lay out clothes, pack backpacks, etc.
  • Eat a healthy breakfast every day. Skipping meals can increase the likelihood of a migraine.
  • Have access to snacks and a healthy lunch during the school day. If you and your pediatrician decide that a daily or occasional snack is important for your child's well-being, but the school doesn't provide a time for snacks, bring the matter to the attention of school administrators so that your son or daughter can have a quick mid-morning and mid-afternoon snack.
  • Understand your child's food triggers.This is especially important if your son or daughter will be eating a school-provided lunch or if other children might be bringing in snacks or a birthday treat to share in class. Encourage your child to watch out for foods that most commonly induce their migraines, such as aged cheese, processed foods, cured meats, nuts, chocolate, raisins, yeast-containing baked goods and foods containing monosodium glutamate (MSG).
  • Stay well-hydrated.Getting adequate fluids throughout the day can help prevent migraines. Speak with the teacher about keeping a water bottle at your child's desk so that he or she can take regular sips.
  • Avoid caffeine. Caffeine can be a trigger for some people, and since children are smaller and harder hit by a dose than adults would be, discourage your child from drinking caffeinated beverages.
  • Isn't sensitive to fluorescent lighting -- If the classroom is lit by fluorescent lights and your child is sensitive to the flickering, you may need to talk to the school about using alternative lighting.
  • Has some daily down time --Since it may be helpful to keep your child's stress level low, try not  to over-schedule the after-school activities.

Identify Early Symptoms to Catch Migraines Before They Happen

It's important to help your children learn to identify their pre-headache symptoms and recognize the signs of an impending migraine headache. However, don't let yourself or your child become hypersensitive to normal body sensations, misreading them as signs of incipient migraines.

Common warning signs include:

  • stiff neck
  • fatigue and yawning
  • frequent urination
  • ringing in the ears
  • low or irritable mood
  • difficulty concentrating
  • bright spots or flashes of light or color affecting the eyes
  • tingling or numbness in the hands, feet or face.

You may want to keep a migraine diary to help track your child's pre-headache symptoms and migraine patterns.

Create an Action Plan

Above all, establish good communication with your school. Have a meeting with your child's teacher and other school staff at the start of each school year to make sure that they understand migraine headaches. Give the school a written list of warning signs to help them recognize an oncoming migraine, as well as a description of the typical symptoms your son or daughter experiences.

Follow Protocol and Work With the School

Find out what steps the school would like your child to follow if a migraine strikes. For example, if your child begins to notice pre-headache symptoms at school, what then? Where would the child go for help? You'll need to be able to tell your child who will be helping them, whether it will be the classroom teacher, an office secretary, or a school nurse.

Explain to the teacher that in the event of pre-headache symptoms, your child may need to take certain steps to help prevent a migraine from occurring. Ask the teacher how your child should go about such things as:

Ask your pediatrician to help you decide whether any medications should be given at school. If so, you'll need to make sure any permission forms are completed and that there's a supply of medications on hand. These medications must be submitted with clearly written instructions about what symptoms should prompt administration and how the medication should be given (amount and frequency). Make sure you check back with the school during the year to maintain the school's supply of your child's medicines.

When to Seek Help at School

Let the school administrators know what symptoms should prompt them to contact you immediately, such as:

  • A headache that doesn't improve after two hours, despite treatment
  • Symptoms that vary considerably from the typical symptoms your child experiences with a migraine
  • Extreme symptoms, such as visual changes, vomiting, slurred speech, fever, or weakness or paralysis
  • Increasing frequency of migraines
  • Need for a fresh supply of medicine

The Bottom Line

With some advanced planning, there's a lot parents can do to minimize the challenges their children and teens face due to migraine headaches. Giving your son or daughter a sense of how to recognize and avert incipient migraines, and what to do if one strikes, will lay the foundation for an enjoyable and successful school year.

Sources:

American Academy of Pediatrics. (Oct 2007). Parenting Corner Q&A:Chronic Headache Conditions. Accessed March 28th 2008.

American Family Physician. Migraine Headache in Children and Adolescents. 2002 Feb 15;65(4):635-636.

Haslam, R.H.A. "Headaches." Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 17th ed. Ed. John Noble. Philadelphia: Saunders Elsevier, 2004. 2012-2014

National Sleep Foundation. (Dec 2006).  Adolescent Sleep Needs and Patterns. Accessed Mar 28th 2008.

Edited by Dr. Colleen Doherty June 10th 2016.
 

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