Is flying giving you a headache?
Posted by Dr Marcus—August 2nd, 2011

We all have our airline horror stories—embarrassing searches going into the airport, missed connections, and luggage traveling to exotic locations. But if you’re one of those people who says, “Flying gives me a headache”—and you actually mean you get head pain when you travel—you’re not alone.

In June, headache experts from around the globe convened on Berlin to share their latest research on headache and migraine. Dr. Mainardi and colleagues from Italy shared research from 63 individuals who experienced headache during air travel. They even proposed to the group that “airplane travel headache” become a new headache classification.

So what is airplane travel headache? Researchers described a usually one-sided headache affecting the front and also sometimes side or back of the head. Two in three individuals in their sample were men with an average age of 30 years old. Here are some of the common headache features:

  • Headache usually occurred during landing
  • Headache pain was severe and typically lasted about 20 minutes, although headaches lasted as short as 5 minutes and as long as one hour
  • Most affected individuals got an airplane headache with over half of the flights they took

Researchers made sure these headaches could not be explained by other health problems, such as sinus infections at the time of travel.

Mainardi and his colleagues believe that the descriptions of the headache they heard from these individuals reporting airplane headache were similar to each other and very different from “every day” headaches that people might report. That’s why they’re suggesting doctors consider airplane headache as a new headache designation. They also reported that taking a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug, like ibuprofen (Motrin) or naproxen (Naprosyn) before the flight could “occasionally” prevent these headaches. And if you get headaches when you travel, you might want to share your story with Dr. Mainardi (federico.mainardi@ulss12.ve.it) so he can add to his list of airplane headache sufferers.

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