It may not just be all in their heads. Or, actually, it truly is, considering going back to school can literally be a headache for both middle school and high school students. A study by the Nationwide Children’s Hospital has revealed tension headaches and migraines become very common in the fall, when class is back in session.
The researchers gathered up data from a number of over 1,300 patients who had visited the emergency department reporting headaches between 2010 and 2014. While the percentage remained steady throughout the year, they found that for school-aged children between 5 and 18 years old, there was a 31% increase in numbers in the fall.
It was no coincidence that the spike in headache reports fell in the same time period as school starting up. According to researchers, changing sleeping patterns from the haphazard and relaxed summer time rest to the more stricter morning hours can affect the brain’s normal functions, and thus, cause headaches. It’s enhanced by higher caffeine intake and skipped meals, due to lack of proper time dedicated to nutrition.
Furthermore, children and teenagers experience high levels of stress associated both with the stress of catching up on their reading, tests or homework, and facing up the yearly pressure of high grades and perfect attendance.
According to Dr. Ann Pakalnis, neurologist at Comprehensive Headache Clinic at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, school is one of the biggest sources of stress for school-aged children.
The National Headache Foundation reported that 20% of students between 5 and 18 years old have a tendency of suffering from headaches, which spike during the fall. That accounts for 10.3 million children and teenagers in the U.S., among which 15% complain about tension headaches, while 5% suffer from migraines.
There is a stark difference between the two, which doctors can differentiate between. Tension headaches imply a discomfort, similar to a tightening around the head, that can cause great distress and soreness, but it may still allow the student to go about their day.
Migraines, on the other hand, is quite a temporary crippling condition. It presents itself with nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to things such as light, sound or smell, all beyond the constant throbbing pain in their head. It’s much more difficult to treat and takes longer to pass, and certain drugs are not always powerful enough.
The study has shown that in between 12 and 13 years old, boys report more migraines, but as soon as puberty hits and hormonal changes come into play, girls seem to suffer more often from the painful, temporary condition.
The sudden increase in headaches can be avoided and parents are asked to keep track of a pattern if their child often complains about that type of discomfort, as it may hint toward more severe health issues. It should also be encouraged that school-aged children get between 9 to 11 hours of sleep if they’re 6 to 13 years old, and at least 8 to 10 hours if they’re teenagers.
As well, they are encouraged to keep the sleeping patterns steady, eat regular three meals per day, exercise and shorten their time spent with their eyes glued to screens. It may seem like a more simpler time for those who have passed it, but school years are highly stressful on children.
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