28 August 2008

Flying is a headache, literally

Headaches associated with air travel appear to be a "huge and painful problem," Israeli researchers report.

Headaches associated with air travel appear to be a "huge and painful problem," Israeli researchers report.

In a study of 906 men and women who had travelled more than once by plane, nearly 6% reported that they experienced headaches associated with flying.

Based on 3.3 billion seats available each year on commercial flights, with 70% occupancy, Dr Israel Potasman and colleagues from Bnai Zion Medical Centre in Haifa estimate that more than 100 million people suffer from flight-associated headaches annually.

"This finding has enormous impact both in terms of suffering and economics," they write in the medical journal Cephalalgia.

There are a number of mechanisms that could contribute to headaches during air travel, including stress, poor air quality, engine noise and changes in barometric pressure, the investigators note. To investigate the prevalence of flight-associated headaches, they surveyed visitors to the travel clinic at their medical centre.

Flight associated headaches more common in women
More than one in five of the study participants had headaches at least once a month that weren't related to flying, the researchers found. But just over half of the 5.7% who reported flight-associated headaches suffered headaches this frequently. They were also slightly more likely to have migraines. Two-thirds of those who suffered flight-associated headaches were women, and one-third had a family history of headache.

Among the flight-associated headache sufferers, 19.2% said they had headaches every time they flew. Nearly a quarter said their headaches got worse as the plane climbed, while a fifth said the pain became worse as the plane descended to the Dead Sea, which is about 400 meters below sea level, suggesting that barometric pressure may be a factor.

The average age of the study participants, who had gone to the clinic to be vaccinated before travelling to the tropics, was 33, the researchers note, so "we may have missed many older business travellers flying to Europe or the USA." The vast majority of those surveyed (97%) said they flew economy class.

This study, the researchers conclude, suggests that flight-associated headache "seems to affect a significant number of the travel population." - (Reuters Health)

SOURCE: Cephalalgia, August 2008.

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Headache & Migraine Centre

August 2008


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Dr Elliot Shevel is a South African migraine surgery pioneer and the founder and medical director of The Headache Clinic in Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town, South Africa. The Headache Clinic is a multidisciplinary practice dedicated to the diagnosis and treatment of Primary Headaches and Migraines. Dr Shevel is also the main author of all scientific publications generated by his team. He recently won a high level science debate in which he was able to prove that the current migraine diagnosis and classification is not based on data. Tertiary Education - Dr Shevel holds both Dental and Medical degrees, and practises as a specialist Maxillo-facial and Oral Surgeon. Follow the Headache Clinic on Twitter@HeadacheClinic.

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