Having a migraine is a common medical condition that can affect kids in two ways: when their parents get migraines and are sometimes too sick to care for them, and when kids themselves get migraines.

A migraine isn’t just a headache. It’s a complex neurological disease with lots of symptoms, and everyone’s migraine experience is different.

Here are some of the common questions parents have regarding migraines.

Q: My kids become frightened when I’m in the middle of a migraine attack, because I often throw up or have to sleep it off in a dark room. What should I tell them? 

A: First and most important, tell your children that you’re not going to die from the migraine, even though you look really sick. Tell them you will feel better after you rest. Explain to your kids that they can help you by playing quietly. If you do need to vomit, try to reassure the kids afterward that an upset stomach is part of the headache process and, just like when they are sick, you feel better once the vomiting stops.

Q: If I get migraines, will my kids inherit them?

A: Although there aren’t precise numbers on inheritance, your children will get migraines more likely than not. The genetic defects have been established for some kinds of migraines, but these occur in less common varieties. If you are a migraine patient, tell your child’s pediatrician. This way, he or she can help you keep an eye out for signs in your children.

Q: Will my child’s migraine triggers be the same as mine? 

A: Probably not, because everybody is unique. If your child starts to develop migraines, record what he ate beforehand, whether he had a good night’s sleep the previous night, whether he’s under a lot of stress and other possible triggers.

Q: How young can children get migraines? 

A: Children as young as 4 years old can have migraines. If you suspect your child gets migraines, talk to the pediatrician. It’s important to have the child evaluated medically to eliminate any other causes of the symptoms.

Q: How will I know if my child has a migraine?

A: Watch for a headache, lethargy, nausea and stomach pain. Be mindful that there are many other causes of these symptoms, so you need to discuss them with your child’s pediatrician.

Q: How do doctors treat migraines in children?

A: Just like for adults, there are lots of potential treatments. It depends on how disabling the migraines are and how frequently they are happening. Some medications are safe and approved for use in kids, and some non-drug treatments, including relaxation exercises, are significantly helpful.

Q: My child had to miss several birthday parties last year due to migraines. What should we tell her friends? 

A: This is a chance to educate other children— and their parents— about migraines. Tell her friends that your daughter has a medical condition that causes bad headaches and other problems like throwing up. Be sure to emphasize that it’s not contagious! Make sure your child gives a gift even though she missed the party, and ask the birthday girl’s parents to save a goody bag for your child, enabling her to enjoy something from the event when she’s feeling better.

Q: Sometimes my child has to leave school because of a migraine. What should I tell my child’s teachers?

A: Educate your child’s teachers. Use some of the resources from the National Headache Foundation Web site to dispel relevant myths, such as that migraine sufferers exaggerate how bad they feel. A lot of stigma is attached to migraines. Confirm that your child isn’t singled out because he is a sufferer.

Q: My kids play a lot of sports. Can a hard impact or minor head injuries cause migraines? 

A: There are post-traumatic headaches, and for kids with migraines, a concussion may worsen a pre-existing migraine condition. Wearing a helmet is key, especially for contact sports. If your child is hit while playing sports, get a medical evaluation— particularly if he has a headache that doesn’t go away after about an hour, and certainly if he loses consciousness. If he’s still not feeling well the next day, even with a minor trauma, call your child’s pediatrician.

Q: Whenever we take a family vacation, my child gets a migraine. Can we prevent this from happening?

A: Anticipation and planning are key for making a trip go smoothly. Know your child’s triggers and try to avoid them. Think through the vacation and take steps like having healthy snacks for the journey. Know where everyone will sleep and what the activities will be. Bring a special pillow or anything that makes it easier for your child to sleep. Schedule breaks for quiet time and resting. Don’t push it if your kids have had ample activity. And always have an escape plan. This way, if your child gets a migraine, you can go back to the hotel and let him sleep. If you’re really stuck with a child in pain, get a cup of ice or a cold cloth and put it on your child’s forehead or wherever it hurts. And because many migraine sufferers are photosensitive, purchase well-fitting sunglasses for your child and make sure to pack them.

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