There are many types of headaches that can be experienced. Tension headaches, sinus headaches, migraines, cluster, hypertension, exertion and hormonal headaches. Most of us have experienced several different types of these and know how debilitating they can be. One headache I never had experienced was the airplane headache. I was unaware until I experienced it myself while descending at an airport in Dallas, Texas. Traveling by air can be a headache on its own, but I had enjoyed our flight with a group of doctors traveling for a seminar. When the plane started to descend, I no longer enjoyed the trip. While having a conversation with another doctor, I had a sudden stabbing pain behind my left eye that was new, sudden onset and different than anything I had ever experienced. I felt as though someone had stabbed me right behind the eye. It made me feel as if I was close to passing out. I asked a flight attendant at that time if I could get back to the bathroom to splash cold water on my face to keep from fainting and they let me get up during the plane’s descent to take care of myself. After the plane landed the intense pain dissipated within a few hours. I still suffered some residual eye soreness that day and was very anxious on the return flight. This has not occurred at this extreme since, but at the time I remember telling the doctor beside me I felt like I may be having a stroke.
Airplane headaches have a pattern of occurring around 35,000 feet and happen only in association with flight. This headache now has its own classification in the International Classification of Headache Disorders. They are most frequently noted to occur during takeoff and landings with significant altitude changes. These are very similar to migraines. Migraines can also be triggered by air travel. Migraines and airplane headaches (AH) can both give severe pain that is one sided and feel like they are behind the eye. They can have a similar onset of stabbing pain. One of the big differences is the duration. With an airplane headache, there is typically relief after the plane has successfully ascended or descended. If the headache is a migraine, the pain will typically last a few days. It is thought that the change in barometric pressure in the sinuses plus air temperature may be to blame for the sudden onset of an airplane headache. Current literature indicates that AH can be treated with analgesics and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory or triptan drugs before travel. You may also use these medications in conjunction with a nasal decongestant spray about an hour before landing. Please consult your primary care physician for advice if you have suffered sudden headaches during air travel.
— This article is written by Aaron Workman, DC one of the members of Chambers Medical Group’s team of car accident chiropractors who offer a variety of treatments and therapies ranging from diagnostic testing various soft tissue therapies for car accidents and injuries in Kentucky.
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