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Cephalalgia. 2012 Jun;32(8):592-9. doi: 10.1177/0333102412441720. Epub 2012 Apr 5.

Headache attributed to airplane travel ('airplane headache'): clinical profile based on a large case series.

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Headache Centre, Neurological Division, SS Giovanni e Paolo Hospital, Venice, Italy.



The 'headache attributed to airplane travel', also named 'airplane headache' (AH), is a recently described headache disorder that appears exclusively in relation to airplane flights, in particular during the landing phase. Based on the stereotypical nature of the attacks in all reported cases, we proposed provisional diagnostic criteria for AH in a previously published paper. Up to now 37 cases have been described in the literature.


After our paper was disseminated via the Internet, we received several email messages from subjects around the world who had experienced such a peculiar headache. Their cooperation, by completing a structured questionnaire and allowing the direct observation of three subjects, enabled us to carry out a study on a total of 75 patients suffering from AH.


Our survey confirmed the stereotypical nature of the attacks, in particular with regard to the short duration of the pain (lasting less than 30 minutes in up to 95% of the cases), the clear relationship with the landing phase, the unilateral pain, the male preponderance, and the absence of accompanying signs and/or symptoms. It is conceivable to consider barotrauma as one of the main mechanisms involved in the pathophysiology of AH. The observation that the pain appears inconstantly in the majority of cases, without any evident disorder affecting the paranasal sinuses, could be consistent with a multimodal pathogenesis underlying this condition, possibly resulting in the interaction between anatomic, environmental and temporary concurrent factors.


This is by far the largest AH case series ever reported in the literature. The diagnostic criteria that we previously proposed proved to be valid when applied to a large number of patients suffering from this condition. We support its recognition as a new form of headache, to be included in the forthcoming update of the International Headache Society Classification, within '10. Headache attributed to disorder of homoeostasis'. Its formal validation would favour further studies aimed at improving the understanding of its pathophysiology and implementing preventative measures.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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