Academics, and soccer are top priorities for high school junior Alayna Doyal. But last fall she had to give up both, due to unrelenting headaches.
"They would start right here," she said, indicating her temples. "And they would spread to the front of my head. And sometimes they would get really bad so they would go to the back."
At first her mom thought dehydration or lack of sleep was the cause. But she set up a trip to the doctor.
"Because I never had headaches before then. And they were constant and they never went away," Doyal explained.
The doctor's diagnosis surprised her. Her headaches were due to a concussion during a recent co-ed soccer match. It was surprising, said Alayna, because the hit was mild.
"All of a sudden he tripped on the ball. And he came at me. And his head hit the left side of my head," she recalled.
After feeling a little nauseous, she went on to play the remainder of the game that day. But for nearly two months afterward headaches kept her out of school. She's still fighting them. It's stories like hers that intrigued Seattle Children's Pediatrician Dr. Heidi Blume.
"I would see lots and lots of kids with headache in general and have to keep telling them, we don't know what the best treatments are," Dr. Blume said.
To find answers completed a study on headaches in which she tracked records of kids seen at King County emergency departments due to traumatic brain injuries. They ranged from severe motor vehicle accidents to more moderate or mild injuries caused by hitting heads, falls, and sports concussions. Her study appeared in the journal Pediatrics. Dr. Blume said it was the mild injuries that surprised her.
"Those kids actually were more likely to have headaches than the kids with moderate or severe brain injury, at three months," Dr. Blume said.
Among the kids studied, teens had more headaches compared to other kids. Those impacted the most were adolescent girls.
"We're still at the very beginning of trying to figure out why this is happening for these kids," said Dr. Blume.
She said while doctors search for the best treatment, parents should know it starts with rest, both physical and mental.
"It's not uncommon for focusing, reading, trying to think, to make the headaches worse," she explained. And she said routine makes them better.
"Making sure you're getting regular sleep, eating regular meals, drinking lots of fluids," she said.
And though she said more research needs to be done, one class of medicines is showing hope.
"Some of the migraine medicines we use to stop migraines may be helpful in some situations," she said.
All those things combined are helping Alayna. Dr. Blume said kids should get back into exercise slowly too. That's the approach Alayna has taken, with short walks that she is extending over time. She said finally after months of headaches she is beginning to feel more normal.