With the onset of extreme cold weather, the likelihood of children getting headaches goes up by 15-20%. This happens especially in those children who are prone to migraine. Younger children may not be able to express themselves and may manifest signs of a headache in other ways, such as by becoming cranky and irritable. They may have a problem sleeping and eating.
“Extreme weather conditions act on nerves that are especially sensitive, in much the same way that loud noises or very harsh odours do. This especially affects children who get frequent headaches due to hereditary reasons, in the form of migraine. In addition, this is the time when children are prone to viral infections and ENT problems. Parents may find that almost 100% of children do get headaches at some point of time in life. The likelihood of these being in winter is higher than at any other time of the year. Adding on to the burden is the fact that this is the time when children also experience a common cold and fever,” says Dr K S Rana, paediatric neurologist, Venkateshwar Hospital, Dwarka, New Delhi.
Cold-stimulus headaches are more common than imagined, especially since children are less likely to protect extremities like the head and ears. The changes in air pressure, increased glare from the sun when it is out, and cold winds can all trigger the problem.
“Children may not be going out to play during this time of the year, and may be spending a lot of time on devices, which increases the strain on the eyes, because of the constant focus on the screen. They may also have headphones on constantly. They may be indoors with the heater on. This can actually dehydrate when the atmosphere is dry and stuffy—another trigger for headaches. My advice to parents is that they clad their children well, but encourage them to go out to play. Group play is especially good, as children run around in teams, raising body heat levels and keeping stress, that is common at this time, at bay,” says Dr Rana.
Certain food items that trigger headache can also be avoided, especially stimulants such as chocolate, coffee, colas. In addition, cheese and tomato are also triggers. The intake of these may go up during this period when children are at home and crave these foods due to the cold weather.
“Acclimatization is necessary. Rather than keeping children indoors, it is best to take them out gradually. So first, switch off the heater and allow the room to cool down slightly. Then you may consider stepping out onto a verandah or balcony, and finally venturing outside. Keep children active, hydrated, and well-fed on healthy foods rather than junk foods,” says Dr Rana.