Flight-associated headaches—prevalence and characteristics


  • Presented at the 1st meeting on Air Travel and Health, held in Eilat, November 2006.

Professor Israel Potasman, Infectious Diseases & Travel Med., Bnai Zion Medical Ctr., 47 Golomb St., Haifa 31048, Israel. Tel. + 972 4835 9624, fax + 972 4835 9755, e-mail israel.potasman@b-zion.org.il


Environmental factors in airplanes may precipitate headaches. We conducted a questionnaire-based study among consecutive travellers to determine the rate, severity and duration of flight-associated headaches (FAHA). Of the 906 eligible travellers (mean age 33.3 ± 13.8 years), 22.3% reported headaches at least once per month. FAHA occurred in 52 travellers (5.7%), of whom 34 were women (P = 0.0023 vs. none FAHA). The duration of pain was 4.0 ± 10.2 h after takeoff and continued for 5.7 ± 14.2 h after landing. Migraine was diagnosed in 19.2% of those with FAHA. The magnitude of headache was 6 ± 2 (on a scale of 1–10). Among those who suffer from FAHA, 45.4% reported that their pain was unilateral, in contrast to 72.7% among those with ‘non-flight’ headaches (P = 0.019). Nine travellers had headaches when descending to −400 m below sea level, and nine upon climbing to high altitude. This preliminary observation indicates that FAHA is not uncommon and should be further investigated.