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Aviat Space Environ Med. 2013 Jul;84(7):730-3.

Two reports of flight-related headache.

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Department of Neurology, Tomei Fujimori Clinic, Nagoya, Aichi, Japan.



Airplane headache is flight-related and appears during airplane landing and/or takeoff without accompanying symptoms. Intracranial and paranasal imaging studies reveal no abnormalities. The etiology is still uncertain, although sinus barotrauma has been proposed as a possible mechanism.


1) A 26-yr-old woman presented with recurring headache during each air travel since she was 22 yr old. Severe bursting pain suddenly manifested in the bilateral orbits and temples during airplane descent, with no accompanying additional symptoms. She had no unusual medical history. X-ray computed tomography (CT) scans showed no abnormalities except thickening of the nasal mucosa. Effective pain relief was obtained with over-the-counter nasal decongestant spray. 2) A 49-yr-old man presented with a 3-yr history of flight-related headache that appeared at airplane touchdown, when he had mental stress, or when he was suffering from a lack of sleep. Pain was of a severe jabbing quality, localized over the forehead with no additional accompanying symptoms. He had a past history of episodic tension-type headache. Intracranial and paranasal CT scan revealed no abnormalities. Headache ceased spontaneously within 40 min of the end of the flight and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug premedication did not prevent the headache.


Sinus barotrauma was thought to be a plausible explanation for the headache in Case 1. In Case 2, an anxiety disorder could be considered as an underlying etiology. The etiology of so-called airplane headache is probably protean and this should be taken into account when assessing cases of in-flight cephalalgia.

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