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J Headache Pain. 2017 Aug 16;18(1):84. doi: 10.1186/s10194-017-0788-0.

Headache attributed to airplane travel: diagnosis, pathophysiology, and treatment - a systematic review.

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SMI®, Department of Health Science and Technology, Faculty of Medicine, Aalborg University, Aalborg, Denmark.
SMI®, Department of Health Science and Technology, Faculty of Medicine, Aalborg University, Aalborg, Denmark.



Headache attributed to airplane travel, also named "airplane headache" (AH) is a headache that occurs during take-off and landing. Today, there are still uncertainties about the pathophysiology and treatment of AH. This systematic review was performed to facilitate identification of the existing literature on AH in order to discuss the current evidence and areas that remain to be investigated in AH.


The systematic literature search was performed in 3 relevant medical databases; PubMed, Scopus, and Embase. The search yielded 220 papers and the papers were sorted based on inclusion and exclusion criteria established for this study.


This systematic review included 39 papers. Main findings revealed that AH attacks are clinically stereotyped and appear mostly during landing phases. The headache presents as a severe painful headache that often disappears within 30 min. The pain is unilateral and localized in the fronto-orbital region. Sinus barotrauma has been considered as the main cause of AH. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and triptans have been taken by passengers with AH, to relieve the headache.


Based on this systematic review, further studies seem required to investigate underlying mechanisms in AH and also to investigate the biological effects of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and triptans for alleviating of AH. These studies would advance our understanding of AH pathogenesis and potential use of treatments that are not yet established.


Airplane headache; Diagnosis; Headache attributed to airplane travel; NSAIDs; Pathophysiology; Sinus barotrauma; Treatment; Triptans

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