The Migraine Girl’s Tips for Air Travel, Part II: In the Air

The Migraine Girl’s Tips for Air Travel, Part II: In the Air

While sitting at the Albuquerque Airport, I thought about all the tools–virtual and real–I use to take care of my health while traveling via airplane. Part I includes a bunch of tips that will aid you and your migraine brain as you prepare to take off. Here in part two, I share some things that work best for me once I’m actually on the plane. 

Blocking out noises

Invest in some noise-cancelling headphones.

I love mine, even though they sometimes hurt the top of my head where the super-cushioned band is. They also aggravate my ears a little bit, particularly if I’m wearing earrings. But their benefits are great, especially if you’re in a seat near a very unhappy baby and/or the jet engines. They don’t block out all sound (so don’t get your hopes up), but they do dull it. They don’t help much when it comes to loud beeps and shrieks, but steady, droning sound and other noises are indeed dampened.

Counteracting smells

Bring an essential oil that has a smell you like.

It’s beyond my scope of understanding, but for some reason it seems like people wear three times as much perfume or cologne as usual when they are getting on a plane. It is one of the biggest travel hazards for us migraineurs. To counteract the smell, I dab the tiniest bit of diluted peppermint oil to my outer nostrils. (Essential oils are very strong and should be diluted if possible. Always check with your doctor before putting an undiluted essential oil directly on your skin, and avoid applying directly to mucous membranes.)

Bonus: want to be a good neighbor? Ask your seat mate if the smell of the oil bothers them at all before applying it to your skin. We of all people should be thoughtful when it comes to others’ sensitivities, right?

Protecting your eyes

Don’t be afraid to wear sunglasses and/or a hat inside the plane (or the terminal!).

Airports are often very bright with harsh fluorescent lighting—same goes with planes that are taking off after dark. If wearing your Theraspecs or sunglasses makes your brain feel calm, go for it. A comfortable hat with a brim also helps protect your eyes from both artificial and natural bright light. (Please remember that you’ll be asked to remove your hat and sunglasses temporarily when showing your ID at check-in, bag drop, and in the security line.)

Remembering your migraine medication

Take your migraine meds before you board.

This tip should only be obeyed if you have discussed this with your doctor. Some migraine/headache specialists recommend that those of us whose migraines are triggered by flying (changes in altitude/pressure) should take a triptan before the plane takes off in order to get ahead of the likely migraine attack. I sometimes can help myself decrease the chance of an attack by taking a couple of ibuprofen.

Deep breaths and walking around

Do some deep breathing or mindfulness meditation.

For people who feel extra stress when traveling—including airplane travel—taking some deep, calming breaths throughout the day can be immensely helpful. Before and during takeoff, breathing in deeply through your nose and out through your mouth while your eyes are closed can lower your cortisol levels and help quell anxiety.

Get up and move around.

If you’re on a long flight, help your brain and your body by getting up and walking up and down the aisle. Once the flight attendants are serving food and drink and have passed your section, you can find a good spot back in their area by the restrooms where you have room to stretch, do some simple neck stretches, and breathe deeply. (The tip to breathe deeply should be taken lightly if you’re hanging out near the lavatory.)

Unplugging from technology

Enjoy your time in transit.

Rather than buying in-flight internet, I use plane trips as a great excuse to unplug. Stuck in a tiny seat for one or twelve hours? This is the perfect time to crack open a book, write an old-fashioned letter, doodle, play silly word games, watch a bad in-flight movie, or snooze. Simply unplugging from technology and constant updates will help any brain at all—especially our sensitive ones.

What tips do you want to share with your fellow migraineurs? Please post below!

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

Comments

View Comments (12)
  • RobinfromCA
    2 months ago

    It’s amazing the things we go to great lengths to figure out before traveling. My grandkids all live a four hour flight away so I fly a lot. I do all of the early bird things so I’m not stressed. As soon as I get to the airport I take a Ketorolac to ward off neck and shoulder pain and a triptan. My doctor also makes sure I always have Zofran in case there are strong smells that may make me queazy. If the smell of the airport is bothering me I get that in me right away. I also invested in a roller bad that fits under a seat. That way I can have my book (paper only), my migraine kit, sunglasses, noise canceling ear buds, and my neck pillow right at my finger tips and I don’t have to lift anything over my head to put in an overhead bin. I also always carry my own super soft blanket with me for comfort.

  • onehsancare
    1 year ago

    Flying used to be a sure ticket to a migraine for me. Now that I wear my masks (Respro Aero Allergy Mask with the chemical/particle filters) (see, https://www.achooallergy.com/allergy-masks/respro-allergy-masks/), I’m only getting an attack about half the time. I need to remember to put gum in my mouth before getting on the plane, though, because trying to push those little pieces of gum up between the mask and my face ALWAYS gets me funny looks! Gum really helps with the very dry mouth that wearing the mask for five straight hours always leaves me with.

  • The Migraine Girl moderator author
    1 year ago

    That’s a great tip–I may invest in one of these masks before my next flight. I have a hard time finding gum that doesn’t contain Splenda or aspartame, two migraine triggers for me, but I’ll take the chewing gum advice as well. Thank you! -Janet G.

  • Candy Meacham
    1 year ago

    Good tips. These are all strategies I use too, except for the noise cancelling headphones. For some of us these things are a trigger. I got a brand new set of Boise noise cancelling headphones from my husband for Christmas one year. On our annual trip to Mexico I put them on and sat back to relax to my favorite tunes. After half an hour, they began to feel uncomfortable although the fit was good. I took them off and felt better. A little later put them back on for a while and began to feel a very uncomfortable odd kind of pressure. When we finally arrived, I spent the next 2 days in bed with a terrible migraine. I wrote a blog post about it and found others (including my son) equally sensitive though I know they work great for some people. Just be careful and pay close attention to your body when trying them out – before you buy!
    Candy Meacham – http://www.artofmigraine.com

  • The Migraine Girl moderator author
    1 year ago

    Candy,

    Thanks for your comments! I totally agree about the noise-cancelling headphones. I wish Bose would call us and have us design the perfect headphone, because even the super-cushy ones are too tight on my ears, and even the ones with a super-pillowy headband bother the top of my head. Wearing glasses makes things even worse! I can use mine at least 80% of the time I need them, but the rest of the time I’m like you–I have to just bear the noise without trying to cancel it out, because the headphones themselves can be painful. 🙂

    Take care; I hope you’re feeling as well as possible today.

    -Janet

  • RobinfromCA
    2 months ago

    I have a pair of noise canceling ear buds. They aren’t quite as effective as the big Bose headphones but I cannot stand anything over the top of my head. These little ear buds work well enough without the pain of a head band.

  • GetAChicken
    1 year ago

    Thank you for this article! Sometimes it can feel like I’m the only one who is “hyper-sensitive” when flying, and super-susceptible to an attack if not when flying, then shortly after arriving at my destination.

    To add to your article, I’m pretty sure one of my MAJOR triggers when flying is the smell of exhaust that often fills the cabin just prior to take-off.

    Do you (or any of you) notice this too?

  • The Migraine Girl moderator author
    1 year ago

    I haven’t noticed the exhaust smell on recent flights, and I have very sensitive nostrils! I bet I’ll notice it next flight, though–or else I’ll be smart and remember your comment here and go ahead and combat the smell with my peppermint oil under the nose. I usually sit near the back, away from the jetway and entry, so maybe that helps me avoid the exhaust as well. Thanks for your thoughtful comments–I hope you’re feeling as well as possible today!

    -Janet

  • aurohra
    1 year ago

    Traveling by airplane or a long drive makes me super anxious! Not because I have an anxiety problem but because I have a chronic migraine which is triggered by the slightest change… any kind of change! I have been traveling more for work and I don’t know how much longer I can do it. I stress about my trip and wonder if I will be able to function when I get there. The anxiety gives me insomnia, the insomnia heightens my pain, pain= nausea and vomiting…I’m sure there are many of you who understand. This last trip I took, I couldn’t sleep at all the night before and had to leave by 3AM for the airport. I decided to start a Medrol pack that i normally use for my RA. I had Midrin, my MigraineX ear plugs and Tramadol with me as a last resort. I made it home that same night at 11PM, I rested on the plane of course but was unable to sleep at all. I have no idea how my presentation went because my headache kept my brain from functioning somewhat, but I got through it! I believe the steroids saved the trip for me. Unfortunately, you can’t stay on them forever. I avoid using meds at all when I can because for the next two weeks after that, I’m pretty much useless.

  • The Migraine Girl moderator author
    1 year ago

    Oh, goodness. I hear you, aurohra. When I’m in a good place, mentally speaking, I can combat some of my own chronic migraine anxiety by remembering to take walks, do deep breathing, practice mindfulness, and more. But if I’m already amped up and not taking care of myself, getting in a migraine trigger minefield like a plane can really spell disaster.

    Have you talked to your migraine or headache specialist about your anxiety related to travel, and have you talked to your employer about reducing the travel portion of your job? I hate that you have parts of your job that come with automatic migraine attacks.

    Take care; I hope you’re feeling as well as possible today.

    -Janet G.

  • Joleen1966
    1 year ago

    These articles come just in time! I’m flying to Florida next week for a 25th wedding anniversary for my Aunt and Uncle. We are going to Disney — that’s where they were married! I am so nervous about flying. I flew last year to Oregon without any issues other than a bad headache (my usual chronic one). Usually I get motion sick so I was worried. I did drink some ginger tea and had some crackers. I took my preventative medication before getting on the plane like you suggest. I never thought about the oil. I have peppermint oil I use on my temple. I’ll make sure to bring that along.

    I love this site. Such good information and it’s nice to know I”m not alone in the world.

  • Joanna Bodner moderator
    1 year ago

    @Joleen1966, So great to hear how timely these articles for you! I just wanted to say good luck with your travels next week! Wishing you an uneventful trip and sure hope you feel OK! 🙂 Enjoy the anniversary party…how wonderful of you to attend! -Joanna (Migraine.com Team)

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