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Is flying giving you a headache?

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 ( so he can add to his list of airplane headache sufferers.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • Karen Stanley Haack
    9 years ago

    I had an eardrum bust on a southwest flight from Phoenix to Chicago…….Samantha my mgrainer gets horriblly sick on airplaines. She said she will never fly again. However now that we know her migraines were caused by the food she was eating maybe she can try to fly again. She would get off the plane puking and be sick for a week with a headache these were shorter flights from Florida to Indiana only 2 hours. She can’t have soda and peanuts and what do they give you on southwest….Peanuts.

  • Karen Stanley Haack
    9 years ago

    Sami is histamine intolerant we just found out she is allergic to so many foods that I almost cry when I try to grocery shop. No soy, No nuts, sesame seeds, all fruits, most veggies(however if the veggies are cooked she can eat them.) She had a rast test and tested positive for over 40 foods. fun huh, no hfcs, no citric acid, at first for 4 weeks she was on a yeast free diet as well. We have reintroduced very little yeast through fresh baked bread. It has to be fresh then frozen. We heat it up when she eats it. All the meat has to be fresh. No leftovers whatsoever. Food no longer then 2 weeks in freezer. Mostly due to the histamine intolerance. There is a supplement called histame, I bought it and it made her sick. It was suppose to help with the histamine intolerance. You would be amazed at all the products we have tried over the years and nothing gave any relief. As a matter of fact most of the drugs the doctors gave her for her migraines were histamine liberaters which made the migraines worse. It has been a tough four years trying to figure out how to heal my daughters migraines….The answer came when she almost died from an MRI with contrast….Histamine intolerant people have severe adverse reactions to the dye. A scientist that we work with saved her life.
    The only pain med she can have now is tylenol.

  • Ellen Schnakenberg
    9 years ago

    Hi Karen, I fly fairly frequently and always always always bring my own food with me. In this way I avoid triggers and can eat whenever I need to instead of waiting on the whims of the airline staff… or the weather to allow them to bring the cart down the aisle and serve “who knows what”. Soda can be a trigger for me as well, especially if it contains a lot of phosphoric acid or corn syrup – or msg. I just ask for water instead. Actually, eating frequently is one of my best Migraine preventives and veggies etc travel great!

  • Robert Wittner
    9 years ago

    The ad hominem attacks against Bachmann by the media jackals have boomeranged against the Left and hugely helped Bachmann.
    Whenever the press attacks Bachmann, she “gets a flood of support and money. She becomes ‘Every Woman,’ a misunderstood Tea Party mother of five facing down an elitist, arrogant, Obama-leaning press corps.” The dogs bark, but the caravan moves on.
    7/19/11 The Public Policy Polling national poll:Bachmann 21%; Mitt Romney 20%.

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