Headache Attributed to Airplane Travel: A Review of Literature

  • Hida Nierenburg
  • Katelin Jackfert
Uncommon and/or Unusual Headaches and Syndromes (J Ailani, Section Editor)
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. Topical Collection on Uncommon and/or Unusual Headaches and Syndromes


Purpose of Review

Headaches due to airplane travel are rare but documented in the literature. We aim to provide a review of diagnostic criteria and treatment for this condition.

Recent Findings

Several cases of this syndrome have been reported since it was first described in 2004. Airplane headache is classified as unilateral, stabbing, orbito-frontal pain, lasting under 30 min, and occurs during ascent or descent of a plane. Patients with this condition can develop anxiety and fear of flying given the intensity and severity of the pain. The pathophysiology of this syndrome is unknown, but theories include suspected barotrauma given changes in barometric pressure during ascent and descent. There are no randomized controlled trials regarding treatment, but case reports suggest headache prevention with pre-treatment with naproxen, decongestants, and triptans prior to air travel. Some non-pharmacological therapies reported include Valsalva maneuvers, chewing, relaxation techniques, and pressure at the pain area.


As more cases of headache attributed to airplane travel are reported, epidemiological data can be obtained to further understand the incidence and prevalence of this condition, which can lead to improved treatment options for patients.


Airplane headache Descent headache Sinus barotrauma Airplane travel 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

Hida Nierenburg has received honoraria from Promius Pharma in the past. Katelin Jackfert declares no conflict of interest.

Human and Animal Rights and Informed Consent

This article does not contain any studies with human or animal subjects performed by any of the authors.


Papers of particular interest, published recently, have been highlighted as: • Of importance •• Of major importance

  1. 1.
    Atkinson V, Lee L. An unusual case of an airplane headache. Headache. 44(5):438–9.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Headache Classification Committee of the International Headache Society (IHS). The international classification of headache disorders, 3rd edition (beta version). 10.1.2 Headache attributed to aeroplane travel. Cephalalgia 2013;33(9):750–750.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    • Berligen MS, Mungen B. Headache associated with airplane travel: report of six cases. Cephalalgia. 2006;26(6):707–11.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
    Mainardi F, Lisotto C, Palestini C, Sarchielli P, Zanchin G. Headache attributed to airplane travel (“airplane headache”): first Italian case. J Headache Pain. 2007;8(3):196–9.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  5. 5.
    Evans RW, Purdy A, Goodman SH. Airplane descent headaches. Headache. 2007;47(5):719–23.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. 6.
    Han-Joon K, Yong-Jin C, Joong-Yang C, Keun-Sik H. Severe jabbing headache associated with airplane travel. Can J Neurol Sci. 2008;35(2):267–8.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 7.
    Baldacci F, Lucetti C, Cipriani G, Dolciotti C, Bonuccelli U, Nuti A. Airplane headache’ with aura. Cephalalgia. 2010;30(5):624–5.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  8. 8.
    Pfund Z, Trauninger A, Szanyi I, Illes Z. Long-lasting airplane headache in a patient with chronic rhinosinusitis. Cephalalgia. 2010;30(4):493–5. xxPubMedGoogle Scholar
  9. 9.
    Berligen MS, Mungen B. A new type of headache, headache associated with airplane travel: preliminary diagnostic criteria and possible mechanisms of aetiopathogenesis. Cephalalgia. 2011;31(12):1266–73. xx CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. 10.
    Nagatani K. Two reports of flight-related headaches. Aviat Space Environ Med. 2013;84(7):730–3.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  11. 11.
    Domitrz I. Airplane headache: a further case report of a young man. J Headache Pain. 2010;11(6):531–2. xx CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  12. 12.
    Kararizou E, Anagnostou E, Parskevas GP, Vassilopoulou SD, Naoumis D, Kararizos G, et al. Headache during airplane travel (“airplane headache”): first case in Greece. J Headache Pain. 2011;12(4):489–91. xxx CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  13. 13.
    Mainardi F, Lisotto C, Maggioni F, Zanchin G. Headache attributed to airplane travel (‘airplane headache’): clinical profile based on a large case series. Cephalalgia. 2012;32(8):592–9.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  14. 14.
    Cherian A, Mathew M, Iype T, Sandeep P, Jabeen A, Ayyappan K. Headache associated with airplane travel: a rare entity. Neurol India. 2013;61(2):164–6.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. 15.
    Rogers K, Rafiq N, Prabhakar P, Ahmed M. Childhood headache attributed to airplane travel: a case report. J Child Neurol. 2015;30(6):764–6.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. 16.
    Bui SBD, Petersen T, Norgaard Poulsen J, Gazerani P. Headaches attributed to airplane travel: a Danish survey. J Headache Pain. 2016;17(33):1–5.Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    Mainardi F, Maggioni F, Lisotto C, Zanchin G. Should aircrafts never land? Headache attributed to aeroplane travel: a new series of 140 patients. J Headache Pain. 2015;16(Suppl 1):A166.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  18. 18.
    •• Bui SBD, Gazerani P. Headache attributed to airplane travel: diagnosis, pathophysiology, and treatment—a systematic review. J Headache Pain. 2017;18(84):1–14.Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    Bui SBD, Petersen T, Norgaard Poulsen J, Gazerani P. Simulated airplane headache: a proxy towards identification of underlying mechanisms. J Headache Pain. 2017;18(9):1–10.Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    •• Mainardi F, Maggioni F, Lisotto C, Zanchin G. Diagnosis and management of headache attributed to airplane travel. Curr Neurol Neurosci Rep. 2013;13(335):1–6.Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    Mainardi F, Maggioni F, Zanchin G. The case of the woman who never dare to fly: headache attributed to imbalance between intrasinusinal and external air pressure. Headache. 2016;56(2):389–91.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  22. 22.
    Ilker Ipekdal H, Karadas O, Oz O, Ulas UH. Can triptans safely be used for airplane headache? Neurol Sci. 2011;32(6):1165–9.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Inova Medical Group, Department of NeurologyMcLeanUSA
  2. 2.Health Quest Medical PracticeKingstonUSA

Personalised recommendations