A new study by US Nationwide Children’s Hospital has found that headaches in children increase during the fall at the same time as academic stress increases and changes occur in bedtime routines and other daily events.
Researchers at a hospital in Columbus, Ohio looked at around 1,300 emergency room visits between 2010 and 2014, finding that the number of headache-related visits for children between the ages of 5 and 18 stayed the same for most of the year with a spike of 31% when the fall hit.
“Stress is really a significant player with children’s and teen’s headaches — parents report that all the time, we see that all the time,” the lead researcher, Dr. Ann Pakalnis, a neurologist and director of the Comprehensive Headache Clinic at Nationwide Children’s, said in a video posted by the hospital. “And school is the biggest stressor.”
In addition to stress, experts believe other headache-inducing factors to include an increase in after-school activities, meals skipped and drinking less fluids. Less exercise and watching too much television are also believed to contribute, reports Ilene Manacher for CBS News.
The National Headache Foundation found that around 20%, or 10.3 million, of school-aged children in the United States are prone to headaches. The organization said that about 15% of children in this group fall victim to tension headaches, with an additional 5% suffering from migraines.
Typically, migraine symptoms include nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light and noise. Tension headache symptoms usually come as a result of stress, anxiety or fatigue.
Researchers also discovered a difference in migraines when it came to boys and girls.
“We see a lot of headaches in young boys, from five to nine years of age, and in boys they tend to get better in later adolescence,” Pakalnis said.
However, researchers say that many times headaches can be avoided.
“Your brain is like your cellphone,” Dr. Howard Jacobs, a headache specialist at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, said in a statement. “If you don’t plug your cellphone in, it doesn’t have energy, it doesn’t work well. If you don’t plug your brain in by providing energy, it doesn’t work well and that causes headaches.”
Jacobs went on to say that in order to avoid a headache, eat three balanced meals each day, drink plenty of fluids, make sure you get a good night’s sleep, and take measures to reduce daily stress.
The National Sleep Foundation suggests children between the ages of 6 and 13 should get 9-11 hours of sleep each night, while teenagers only need 8-10.
Sometimes, Jacobs said, a headache could be a signal of an underlying medical issue. A sudden, severe headache or a change in how a headache presents itself should be evaluated by a doctor. He added that if the headache is interrupting a child’s daily life, that child should be seen by a physician.