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Curr Neurol Neurosci Rep. 2013 Mar;13(3):335. doi: 10.1007/s11910-012-0335-y.

Diagnosis and management of headache attributed to airplane travel.

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  • 1Headache Centre, Department of Neurosciences, Ospedale Civile SS Giovanni e Paolo, Venice, Italy.


The headache attributed to airplane travel, also named "airplane headache", is characterized by the sudden onset of a severe head pain exclusively in relation to airplane flights, mainly during the landing phase. Secondary causes, such as upper respiratory tract infections or acute sinusitis, must be ruled out. Although its cause is not thoroughly understood, sinus barotrauma should be reasonably involved in the pathophysiological mechanisms. Furthermore, in the current International Classification of Headache Disorders, rapid descent from high altitude is not considered as a possible cause of headache, although the onset of such pain in airplane travellers or aviators has been well known since the beginning of the aviation era. On the basis of a survey we conducted with the courteous cooperation of people who had experienced this type of headache, we proposed diagnostic criteria to be added to the forthcoming revision of the International Classification of Headache Disorders. Their formal validation would favour further studies aimed at improving knowledge of the pathophysiological mechanisms involved and at implementing preventative measures.

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