National Migraine Centre
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migraine with aura and the flight call

I began suffering from migraine with aura a few years ago when I reached 50. It seemed associated both with flying and bright lights. I have sorted out glasses and sun glasses so have now reduced incidences just to the flying situation.

The strange thing is it comes on the minute the flight is called and I stand up to board. No matter how careful I am to be relaxed and wear the right glasses and avoid bright or flickering lights which might trigger an incident, it still happens.

The flight is called, I stand up to board, and my vision goes. This means I am walking towards and boarding the craft with very disturbed vision. I then get a mild headache and nausea, and the whole thing is over around 15 mins. But it gets the flight off to a very poor start.

I don't particularly like flying, but I am not nervous or worried about it. I know flying and migraines are associated, but have not heard of this pattern of sudden onset when the flight is called.

Does any one else suffer in this way or could shed any light?

7 Replies

I wonder if it might be the lighting in the airport that's setting off your migraines. I've always been sensitive to changes in lighting. Some people get migraines if an event has been built up, so perhaps the whole process of getting ready to travel somewhere, including packing, travelling to the airport & waiting is leading to it all kicking off as soon as the flight gets called. I don't like airports much - they're noisy, false environments, you often have to stand up for ages, the food and drink isn't maybe what you'd choose to have normally - all changes to your routine that can trigger migraines, not to mention the stress of being herded like cattle.

I sympathise - I had one start at the departure gate once so there was no where to get water to take medication, and once on board we got delayed and the cabin crew weren't allowed to unlock the catering trollies to get the water out until we were airborne. It was torture! But I don't think it's the airport that triggers them for me, I usually get them on the way home & I'm certain that it's the change in climate & lack of sleep on holiday (I suffer a lot in the heat), or once we've arrived (I just hate being crammed in with loads of other people, and we've usually had to get up really early to get there, and I'm dehydrated on the flight). But after begging to have a holiday in the UK last year and getting my way we are going to fly again this summer - fair enough, the weather was awful and holidays are for the rest of the family as much as for me. I will have to learn to swallow pills without any water.


Don't forget you can have 50ml of liquid, get the wife to have one too and that should be just enough to swallow your tablets.


Sorry, or husband, partner.


thanks for those thoughts. Yes I am sure what you say is correct. It is just such a nuisance. It is making me nervous about flying alone, that is the big problem. When it happens and you are flying alone, it is even more frightening


That is a strange onset, but it could be the whole experience of flying, as teadrinker says, where you are getting ready, arriving, waiting etc that sets it off at boarding. Could you take earmuffs or wear earphones & listen to your ipod with sunglasses on to "zone out" from all the chaos around? We went to Majorca two years ago and I was ok with flying, but the morning after we got there, I woke with the most horrendous migraine, started being sick every 20 minutes. I had taken a Sumatriptan on first waking, but carried on being sick so I texted a friend to ask her to google how soon I could take a second dose. Once I took it, I started to feel better within half an hour and by lunchtime I was able to go out. Normally, I'm sick for about 12 hours every 20 minutes and the migraine completely knocks me out. We stayed in the UK last year, but are looking to go abroad this year, so I will have to take plenty of medication with me. Teadrinker - if you ask for a prescription for Rizatriptan (MaxMelt), it's basically Sumatriptan but it's a wafer that melts on your tongue. It tastes vile but if you immediately eat a biscuit or something strong tasting, it will go quickly. I resort to them as a last resort as they are so horrible, but I would have to take that if I couldn't have water to take Sumatriptan. Good luck to you both, hope you find holidays better this year!


Hello there,

My theory on these kind of classic migraines (as a sufferer) is that they occur as a result of a 'build up of' of stress and/or anticipation of some event or disruption to our bodily routines (phew!)

We then get a 'release' of this stress afterwards, usually in the form of migraine attacks. Looking back at my migraine diaries it seems I get attacks through my irregular shift patterns and usually when I am rest afterwards (for instance waking up with aura or a headache)

The headaches themselves seem to make my head and neck feel 'tight' which makes me think stress has a role to play.

Of course this is all conjecture and I realise we are all unique with our conditions: what might affect you may not affect me and vice versa.

Hope this helps!


Build up sounds right and coping with stress by holding things together. The wafer meds sound useful but have you tried eating something and popping the pill in as you are about to swallow? Follow up with the rest of the biscuit/banana. I find that essential oils of lavender and geranium on a hanky work well for all sorts of tricky moments and may level things out for you. Would suggest relaxation techniques but you might be good at them and miss the flight!! Am going to try the glasses tip, thank you.


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