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Ask the Expert: Flying Triggers Migraines

Q. When I fly, I usually end up with a migraine. This is not a good way to start a fun, relaxing trip. Is there any way to prevent migraine while flying?

A. Migraine headaches triggered by flight may be related to the relative pressurization that occurs in commercial jet aircrafts. At standard flight altitudes, the condition in the passenger compartment is equivalent to being at between nearly 5000 feet of altitude (similar to Denver) and nearly 8000 feet. At 8000feet, the relative oxygen concentration in the blood is about 93% of normal. This may contribute to developing altitude sickness or at least a migraine.

The drug acetazolamide, which is a mild diuretic and used to treat altitude sickness, may help prevent migraine induced by flying. I recommend that it be taken at a dose of 250 mg twice a day starting the day before flying. Transient numbness or tingling sensations are common. Another side effect is that it can make carbonated beverages taste odd.

Frederick Freitag, D.O.
Diamond Headache Clinic
Chicago, IL

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