How To Handle A Migraine While Flying

(Complete with funny stock photos to help us cope, cause migraines suck.)

I’ve suffered from migraines since sixth grade (that day has left quite an impression on my memory), and since then, getting a migraine while flying somewhere has been my nightmare. While traveling home from a work-related trip to NYC recently, my nightmare came true, and unfortunately, all the online resources that I could find were on how to prevent migraines while traveling, rather than what to do when it happens!

Migraines suck!

So, I wanted to put together a resource for other travelers with this problem, just in case any of you too find it too late to prevent this debilitating event on a travel day. Some of this comes from my own experience with this problem, but some of these tips also come from responses that I got when I was desperately looking for advice and support while I tried to figure out how to get home despite the migraine that hit me.

Going for a walk helps me alot.

First off, do what you need to do to treat your migraine. The number one thing is to be sure you have whatever meds work for you, be that prescription or over-the-counter. For me, what has been helpful has been taking Excedrin right away, then chugging a ton of water, eating some protein immediately, and then going against all advice and NOT laying down in the dark. Instead, keeping myself extremely hydrated, I put on my sunglasses and tried to go for a walk. I know that sounds super weird, and I doubt it will work for everyone (or anyone else?), but it has been extremely helpful for me to experiment with combinations of other people’s strategies in order to find something that works. I’ve listed more ideas at the end of this post, coming from people’s suggestions from the group that supported me through this experience. You can give these a try.

Follow this birb’s example and HYDRATE!

Second, decide if you should fly or not. InternationalCaty reminded me that flying can make headaches (and thus, probably migraines as well) worse, and that it was worth asking the airline if there was a chance to move my flight to the next day. While I didn’t end up doing this, I think this is great to keep in mind. You may want to keep a little extra money in your budget for a last-minute rest day near the airport if it will give you some peace of mind. Furthermore, on this note of deciding whether you should wait a day to fly if a migraine hits you, some former/current flight attendants mentioned that if you look too sick to fly, you may be kicked off the plane. This makes sense, for everyone’s safety.

Eat some protein!

Third, if you do decide to go, or the migraine hits you mid-flight, you should let the flight attendant and the people sitting around you know what is happening. For one, this will let everyone know that you aren’t contagious, and I think it will put you at ease to some extent if things really go downhill, because your row mates will already know what’s up. Furthermore, the flight attendants will appreciate the heads-up and they might also be able to help make you more comfortable.

Some caffeine and sleep can help out.

THINGS FOR MIGRAINE SUFFERERS TO TRAVEL WITH

  • Migraine meds
  • Sleep mask
  • Earplugs or headphones with some calming white noise (I personally love the sound of rain and it really calms me down while blocking out other sounds)
  • WATER! (If you have a reuseable water bottle, you can drink from it before security, dump it out, and then refill on the other side)
  • Protein (I always try to carry protein bars with me, and this is just helpful in general, migraines aside)

Garlic is magic… probably not available in the airport, but… you never know, I guess.

SUGGESTIONS FOR SIDE TREATMENTS FOR MIGRAINES (After you take your meds, or if you are stuck without them) AS SUGGESTED BY SOLO WOMEN TRAVELERS ON FACEBOOK

  • Chug water, eat protein, go for a walk
  • Drink a Coke (the person who told me that this helps her says this HAS to be a real Coke and it cannot be diet), lots of people suggest drinking caffeine in general
  • Drink something with electrolytes
  • Put salt on the palm of your hand, lick off, and drink 12-16 oz of water
  • Head/neck and foot massage
  • Try to meditate or sleep
  • Eat garlic
  • Try sinus/allergy medicine (as long as it doesn’t interact with your other meds or any allergy, etc that you may have)
  • Notes on Accupressure from Jackie Monkiewicz:

    “I primarily use the ones on my temples, the base of the skull, and between the webbing of my thumb & forefinger. Sometimes I’ll supplement with the sinus trigger points, because those can be involved.

    But other migraineurs use other points.

    A trigger point is “active” if it hurts when I squeeze it. Sometimes there’s a little knot of balled angry muscle.

    I actually can’t find these points when I’m not having a migraine.

    The book I first read about them in said to squeeze the absolute shit out of them. That the more it hurt, the more likely it was that they would provide relief. I’m not sure that’s 100% true, but based on trigger point therapies I’ve had for other issues at physical therapy, I can report that generally the therapist who really whales on the trigger points does get the best results.

    The temple points actually make me feel nauseous when I’m really pressing on them in the middle of a migraine.

    The base of the skull ones are hard for me to get, because I have a lot of muscle back there. But I can also feel this huge band of angry muscle bulging across the top of my neck, so I know when they are active.

    Airplane chairs actually provide decent purchase for reaching them, but I’ve also stopped at airport massage places and basically begged them to just please fix my neck.

    And I assume acupuncture on these points would be beneficial, but alas, it’s not practical for air travel.”

    For more info on this: http://www.wikihow.com/Use-Acupressure-Points-for-Migraine-Headaches

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28 Comments

  1. Great tips, I didn’t know protein helped. Thanks!

  2. Great tips! Flying is hard enough without having migraines or any other pain – hopefully I won’t have to use these tips haha 😀

  3. Some really interesting tips! I’ve suffered from migraines since I was in high school and have had some doozies while traveling. And I always find water + caffeine + salt can really help! And while I’ve never thought about having one on a flight, I now feel more comfortable about how to manage it, thanks to your tips!

    • I love hearing from other people that have to deal with this (and still travel!). Helps to not feel so alone. Glad this post could help, and thanks for sharing your own strategy!

  4. I haven’t had migraine yet, but yeah getting sick while on a flight or on the road is just ugh. It’s the worst. I sometimes get headaches though when I’m stressed, and what works for me is breathing out the energy of sickness. It’s very simple and works like a charm. 🙂

    • You are very lucky. Migraines and headaches are two VERY different experiences, as anyone with migraines could tell you. But calming breathing is always helpful, especially if you are like me and tend to get really anxious about any of this stuff. Great advice.

  5. Pam

    I’ve, very fortunately, never suffered a migraine and have heard such horrible stories about how one feels when they do. I’m glad that you’ve figured out a way to treat them for yourself- some people never get into a good and/or healthy routine to do this. Thanks for the tips!

    • Sadly, there is only so much you can do to prevent them, and sometimes the patterns that lead up to them are hard to figure out or unavoidable. It’s always nice to know what to do if the worst happens, though the goal is to avoid it for sure.

  6. I can’t imagine having a migraine while flying! These look like great tips and I’ll reference back to them if ever needed. Thank you!

  7. I’ve only had a handful of migraines but they were were very memorable. I hope I never get one while flying, but this post has a lot of really great insights in case it ever does happen.

  8. I’ve never dealt with migraines but I’m sure people who do really appreciate these tips. It’s hard to imagine that so much preparation is necessary for migraines. Makes you realize how severe they can be.

    • Yes. They are absolutely horrible. 🙁 But hey, it’s good that you are among the few non-migraine sufferers that understand that these things aren’t just headaches.

  9. Ugh, migranes are THE WORST! These are some great tips though – thankfully I’ve only had to suffer through that once.

    • Glad they seem helpful! It was nice to talk to other people who had dealt with this situation before, so I figured getting the word out might help some people as well.

  10. Wow! I found answers for my mom’s migraine attack. But she hates any kind of noise whenever she have it. I will def share this post to her. Thank you.

    • Noise is definitely a trigger. It never hurts to try some new stuff to see if it might help out, and most of this is too simple not to give a try. Nothing to lose!

  11. I could not imagine having a migraine on a flight:( I hoping I never have to; but now I have your wonderful tips to help if I ever do

    • I hope you never have to deal with it either! It sucks! But knowing what to do, and to reach out to the flight attendants is definitely helpful.

  12. lex

    this is amazing stuff and such a nice way to come off a few things, never knew this much about migrane you know.

  13. thank you so much for this valuable share! My partner suffers from migraine and at times it just ruins our trip. Add to that motion sickness. Your blog shows some light in despair!

  14. At least you found some helpful ways to combat your migraine. That’s a big help with people having the same problem. Luckily, I don’t stumble with such.

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