Is there something like a plane headache?

2012-06-07 20:09

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

New York - Flying is a headache for many people, but for some that figure of speech becomes literal with "aeroplane headache", a form of pain that flares up during landing, researchers said.

The unusual, specific head pain - severe usually on one side of the head and near the eye - was first reported in medical literature in 2004, with several dozen more cases documented in the following years.

Now, Italian researchers writing in the journal Cephalalgia argue that "aeroplane headache" should be considered a new subtype of headache and suggest a list of criteria doctors can use to diagnose it.

"The 'headache attributed to air travel,' also named 'aeroplane headache', is a recently described headache disorder that appears exclusively in relation to aeroplane flights, in particular during the landing phase," wrote lead researcher Federico Mainardi, of Giovanni e Paolo Hospital in Venice.


Mainardi's group describes the cases of 75 people with symptoms suggestive of aeroplane headaches. Those individuals had contacted the doctors after reading about aeroplane headaches in a piece Mainardi published in 2007.

Researchers had all of them complete detailed questionnaires to describe their symptoms. Overall, they fit the features of past cases of aeroplane headaches: severe pain on one side of the head that was usually limited to the time the plane was landing.

The headache was almost always short lived, less than 30 minutes for 96% of the people. Only a minority consistently had headaches during landings, and for most it happened on some flights but not on others.

"Is [an aeroplane headache] a unique disorder? I think it is. But others might disagree," said R Allan Purdy, a neurologist and professor at Dalhousie Medical School in Halifax, Canada, who wrote an editorial on the report.

"Nobody knows what causes it. Nobody knows how many people have it. Nobody knows what treatments work," he added, but noted that classifying it as a distinct disorder would allow it to be studied more directly.

There were limitations to the report, including the fact that nearly all the individuals involved were assessed long-distance, without a physical exam.         


It's not clear what might trigger the headaches. One theory is that the pain may be related to pressure changes in the sinus cavities, based on the idea that passengers with colds or sinus infections can get severe headaches during take-off or landing.

Another question is why only some passengers get them. But Purdy said that over half the people in the current report also had a history of other headache problems including migraines and frequent tension headaches.

Mainardi's team says an aeroplane headache is distinct from migraines and other well-known headache types.

One of their diagnostic criteria is that the pain can't be linked to other causes.

They also say a person should have had at least two attacks of severe head pain during flight, with the symptoms lasting no more than 30 minutes, and there shouldn't be any other symptoms, such as nausea or sensitivity to light or noise, that may be signs of migraine.

The good news is that aeroplane headaches seem harmless.

"It doesn't appear to be a serious or life-threatening disorder," Purdy said.
Read more on:    air travel  |  health

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

linking and moving

2015-04-22 07:36 publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.