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by Julia Withers

How to Avoid Migraines While You Travel

With the holidays coming up, traveling is inevitable. Traveling is often a trigger for migraineurs because the temperature and pressure changes disrupt the body’s biochemical balance—what we call Electrolyte Homeostasis. Migraine sufferers’ brains are more sensitive to environmental changes than the brain of a non-migraineur, and react differently to the shifts in temperature and pressure that are common when traveling.

On a flight, passengers experience major and sudden pressure changes. At takeoff, planes are depressurized to be between 5,000 and 7,000 feet (depending on flight length and airplane type). At such high altitude, not only is the pressure much lower than at sea level, but also there is less oxygen and the temperature is cooler—notice how on flights, it seems to always be cold. To reduce the effects of the sudden depressurization, prepare with proper hydration before the flight, during takeoff, and on the flight. This means drinking extra water and having plenty of electrolytes.

If your landing destination is back to sea level, stop extra hydration an hour before landing and have some potassium-rich food, like unsalted pistachios or pumpkin seeds. If you travel to higher elevations, maintain your increased hydration all through your trip.

Temperature can be another factor that can trigger migraines. Anticipate the temperature change if you travel to a different temperature zone and prepare for it by drinking more water than usual, and by eating extra sodium—the electrolyte you need in order to properly hydrate.

Pressure changes, like those we experience on planes, are possibly the most serious triggers according to migraine sufferers. For some migraineurs, a 150-foot altitude change coming up or down a hill can cause ear-popping. On planes, the response is much more severe. If you’ve ever brought a bottled drink on a plane, think about how it expands when you reached high altitude, and how it compresses once you’ve landed. Your body is subject to the same pressure changes. Remember that altitude sickness and migraines triggered from reduction in pressure can be avoided by properly hydrating with water and electrolytes. Extra hydration will assist your cells with the above-normal electrical activity during your travels.


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