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HEALTH > Is there such a thing as airplane headache?

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Flying is a headache for most people, but for some that figure of speech becomes literal, according to researchers.

In 2004, doctors reported the first case of “airplane headache” in the medical literature; three
dozen more cases were documented in the following years.

The unusual head pain is specific, researchers say: severe pain, usually on one side of the head and near the eye that flares up during an airplane landing. Whether “airplane headache” is a distinct condition is still up for debate. But Italian researchers are arguing that it should be considered a new subtype of headache.

In a recent article in the medical journal Cephalalgia, they report on another 75 people with complaints that fit the signs of airplane headache. And they suggest a list of criteria that doctors can use to diagnose it.

Whether airplane headache will be officially recognized is anyone’s guess. Doctors go by a detailed classification system, called the International Classification of Headache Disorders, to diagnose specific subtypes of headache.

“Is (airplane headache) a unique disorder? I think it is. But others might disagree,” said Dr. R. Allan Purdy, a neurologist and professor at Dalhousie Medical School in Halifax, Canada.

Classifying airplane headache as a distinct disorder would allow it to be studied more directly, according to Purdy, who wrote an editorial on the report.

“Nobody knows what causes it,” Purdy said. “Nobody knows how many people have it. Nobody knows what treatments work.”

Further research would presumably help answer those questions.

June/08/2012

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