Migraine symptoms in kids

Kids can experience dizziness, nausea and sensitivity to light, noise or smells with migraine

Migraine symptoms in kids are very similar to adult symptoms, and since a tendency toward migraine may be passed from parent to child, parents already may know some of the signs.

Migraine attacks recur and can cause throbbing pain on one or both sides of the head. More than with a routine headache, migraine symptoms in kids can include dizziness, nausea and sensitivity to light, noise or smells.

Kids and teens experiencing migraine often need to skip school, sports, work or other activities until they feel better.

In the Louisville area, where allergies are a common complaint, those who experience migraine sometimes self-diagnose their condition as sinus headaches. Mistreating migraine can lead to worse attacks, and early treatment — especially during childhood — often provides greater relief.

“Pediatricians or family medicine providers successfully treat many kids with migraine symptoms,” said Elizabeth S. Doll, M.D., child neurologist specializing in headaches at Norton Children’s Neuroscience Institute, affiliated with the UofL School of Medicine. “Newly approved treatments prevent migraine or serve as a rescue medication when an attack strikes.”

Sometimes kids and teens will notice feeling “not right” a few hours or days before a migraine attack. They might crave different foods, or feel thirsty, irritable, tired or even full of energy.  Some kids get auras — this migraine symptom starts just before the headache and last up to an hour. An aura can include:

  • Blurred vision
  • Seeing spots, colored balls, jagged lines or bright flashing lights
  • Tingling in a part of their face

Some kids who try to continue with their usual routine amid a migraine may become nauseous and vomit. Physical activities can make the pain worse.

Norton Children’s Medical Group

If you think your child is experiencing migraine or headaches, start their treatment with a pediatrician. Norton Children’s has more than 20 pediatrician offices, so we’re close to home, school or work.


Most migraine attacks last from 30 minutes to several hours; some can last a couple of days.

Headaches can be a condition on their own or a sign of something else, a type known as secondary headache. Headaches that could be symptoms of an underlying condition need advanced treatment and should be brought to a health care provider’s attention right away.

According to the American Headache Society, the following list describes considerations for whether secondary headaches require advanced evaluation in kids:

  • Systemic symptoms – These are symptoms that affect the entire body, such as fever, muscle pain or weight loss.
  • Neurological symptoms – In addition to the headache pain, neurological symptoms such as confusion, impaired alertness or lost consciousness are red flags.
  • Onset – Headaches that strike suddenly, sometimes called thunderclap headaches, can be a sign of stroke or bleeding in the brain.
  • Previous headache history – Is this a first headache or is this headache different from previous attacks? Headaches that are more frequent, severe or have different symptoms are worthy of further investigation.