Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Travelling and Migraine

It is a truth universally acknowledged that I will never meet my tall, dark, handsome (who seems to verge on rudeness but is just shy and who opened an Orphanage in Uganda, in his spare time, and is an award winning Eco Friendly Architect so is discreetly super rich) future husband, while sitting on an Aeroplane. A school friend met her husband on a flight to New York but I know this fate is not to be mine. Why? I hear you cry.

Never Going To Happen! Especially on a plane.....

Well, let’s say the Virgin Atlantic gods have actually placed me next to this anomaly of Architect/Philanthropist; he’ll be greeted not by a lithe vision cooly sipping on her pre flight glass of Champagne (obviously all migraineurs must travel First Class), oh no, he’ll be greeted by a grunting red head who, pre flight, will be half way through her ‘no migraine will be happening on this flight’ ritual. This means the red head, i.e me, will be trying to attach a TENS unit to my neck and back which will be virtually impossible, as I’ll be wearing my battered beige Neck Brace, which I’ll have given up trying to hide with my pink pashmina. It won’t occur to me to take off my Neck Brace, thus trying to contort my arms to place the TENS pads on exactly the right spot on my back, I’ll probably knock over his glass of pre flight Champagne. I will then arduously begin the task of trying to get my feet into those flight socks that are meant to prevent DVT. They’re like SPANX for feet: impossible to get into. I notice I'm getting bunions. Next, I must take out my contact lenses. I’ll wish I’d done this in private, so I’ll try to crouch over and do it discreetly but obviously this is quite hard so I’ll drop one lens onto the floor. Now being virtually blind I’ll need his help in locating one of my eyes!!! I will then wedge on my six inch thick, non-sexy Librarian glasses that are, at present, being held together with sticky tape. Are you imagining this vision of radiant loveliness?

I’ll then tip my head back and, not so gracefully, snort several shots of Otrivine Nasal drops (always use the drops, not the spray. I’m not sure why but this works better.) This stops sinus pressure building up over the flight which, for me can trigger ear pain and then migraine. I will then start to twist in the EAR PLANES ear plugs. Having had an inner ear operation I can sometimes get incredible searing ear pain on take off and landing so these are life savers.

And then let’s not forget the plethora of pills I will be taking, which will now be laid out on my lap so I look like my own in-flight pharmacy. I probably have an Otrivine nasal thing sticking out of my nose, as I remembered the pills half way through this process, and then the stewardess comes along to ask something.

“WHAT? I CAN'T HEAR YOU. WHY ARE YOU SPEAKING SO QUIETLY? GOD PLANES ARE LOUD!” I laugh conspiratorially with my Architect future husband, obviously moving my head is difficult what with my Neck Brace/TENS unit. The annoyingly thin stewardess points at my ears, I remember I have my Ear Plugs in.

So the plane hasn’t even taken off – and I have yet to take the contents of my in-flight pharmacy. If he doesn’t think I’m a raving lunatic he’s about to think I’m a drug addict. Given the stereotypes that abound re migraine I’m wondering what incredibly exotic disease I could claim to have picked up while trekking in say, the Himalayas to save blind Pandas, so he’ll know I’m kind and well travelled. As I take the first of my prophylactic pills he glances at me. I blurt out “Don’t worry I’m no longer contagious!”…… ????

I will have to repeat a few of the pill popping and Otrivine snorting actions throughout the flight. Attractive. I’ll also drink a swimming pool worth of water and try to snack as much as possible to keep my blood sugar levels up. So I will basically be munching and peeing for 12 hours straight. Yes, sitting next to me on any flight is lots of fun.

As you can probably tell by now this will not be “Pride and Prejudice In-Flight”. If I'm to be cast as any of the Bennet sisters it is probably Mary. The dull annoying one you'd wish would just bugger off. 

Slow Action Re-Play.

What are the pills I take?
The pills I take vary depending on the length of flight and time but can include:

NSAID (non steroidal anti-inflammatory drug) – for long flights I might take these pre-emptively. Obviously migraineurs have to be wary of Medication Overuse Headache. I might actually take the NSAID half an hour before the plane takes off. But you should have to hand whatever pain medication your Doctor prescribes. I might also take a pre-emptive slow release Triptan, such as Naratriptan, if I’m in a bad way before the flight – but at present I just have a ZOMIG near at hand to take when needed. 

Diazepam or a Sleeping Pill. Obviously DVT is a very real and serious risk, so both of these have to be weighed up with your Doctor. Personally, I have found that I do best if, after the meal (which I've usually brought myself) and having watched a fabulous film, I can have a good rest.  

Topamax - if this is an overnight flight I'll have to take my daily migraine preventative which, at present, is Topamax. 

Why do I wear a Neck Brace?
For me a huge problem is back and head support, which is the main reason I wear my Neck Brace/collar. I have tried and tested all of the supposed ‘neck’ travel pillows – none of them really support your head, or at least hold it in a firm position that I’d like! I fell asleep in the back of the car in December and my head flopped forward, essentially giving myself whiplash and 13 migraines promptly followed in January. With my Neck Brace on I know my hyper mobile, spasm prone neck is nicely supported and I’ve got something to learn against.

Summary of Top Tips for Travelling and Flights:

  • Start Preparation well before you go – you will need to visit your Doctor and Pharmacy at least 2 weeks before you depart.

  • Go to your Doctors and get copies of your prescriptions just in case. If you want to be extra cautious have a letter detailing what to do in emergency situations.

  • Have extra doses available. Take more of your medication with you than you’ll actually need.

  • Divide your medication between hand luggage and check-in luggage. If your check-in luggage gets lost you don’t want to be left with nothing! I’ve never had trouble taking most of my medication through security.

  • Stay hydrated on the flight – drink much more water than you would normally and snack too.

  • Take heat patches with you to avoid muscle stiffness in flight.

  •  I used to find the smell of aeroplanes aggravating and brought a lovely in-flight mist spray from my local health shop. I also took head balms, lip balms, moisturisers and basically anything and everything I thought I could possibly need to make a long over night journey as comfortable as possible for myself. No matter how much of an idiot it made me look!

  • Adjust your body clock to local time as soon as you possibly can.

  • Always fly First Class darlings! In all seriousness, if you can travel with extra leg room, or buy a quick boarding pass so you don’t have to stand in line this will help immeasurably. I have had to get on and off planes in a wheel chair, which was embarrassing but useful in terms of cutting the security line! Do whatever you can to make the journey as smooth, as relaxing and as comfortable and enjoyable as it can be. It’s worth spending the extra money to avoid a migraine.

What are your top tips for travelling so you avoid a migraine?

Further Information:

Part TWO – On Holiday (vacation) with a migraine.

Coming up: Topamax Trials and Tribulations
My Bra Is Giving Me A Migraine!
I’m not a member of a cult, I just live with my parents.

Note: Please remember I am not a Qualified Medical Professional and any medications mentioned above were prescribed to me, specifically. Please check with your own Doctor what medications would be most appropriate for you when travelling.


  1. Hi Victoria,

    I have a question, i'm pretty sure I have sinisitis... what the hell do i do? I just shook a cold so i think i'm at least halfway through the months MOH allowance for painkillers... but the sinisitis is killing my head... any tips?!

    1. Hey you! Try the Otrivine Nasal Drops - they really work - my Dad has a lot of problems with Sinusitis and he uses them. Like Catherine says below you can also get a Steroid spray from your GP - randomly you can also get MOH version of Sinusitis by over-using that!! But obviously you wont! And there are anti-biotics, I believe that might help but those two sprays will help at first. I feel sorry for people who don't know that their sinus pain and headaches are actually migraine. But I know that when I have a cold or sinus pain it triggers migraines and the Otrivine drops work well. I'll email you the name of the steroid spray if you like x

    2. That would be great, thanks Victoria, and Catherine.

      I hope you are well Victoria? I know what you mean though, i feel so attractive right now haha, i love the morning after explanation of my pharmacy I have to take! It seems you are getting famous?!

  2. Hi Victoria that's brilliant and full of useful tips. Surely once you're world famous there will be lots of Mr Right's all wanting to count out your meds!

    Maggie I have just been diagnosed with sinus problems as well as migraine - joy. I find putting a very hot hot water bottle on my pillow and then laying on that really helps to relieve the sinus pain. Also can you see your GP for some steroid nose drops? Good luck. x

  3. Yeah, my head and how badly it's effecting my nose is the worst part. It came on over night, my face hurts and my nose will NOT stop running, it's already raw!

  4. Question: I know you said you haven't really had any trouble getting your meds through airport security, but do any of your meds includes injections? I haven't flown in a couple years and now my most effective meds are injections, and I'm not sure I could get syringes on board. I realize the rules may be very different here in the States as well.

  5. Hi. I've taken Imitrx injections through before, but to be safe maybe these days check with your Doc and take a copy of your prescription and a letter stating purpose etc. I've had a hair clip confiscated so.....

  6. Useful tips indeed, I don’t have a problem when I travel except for one thing. Every time I fall asleep, I undergo paradoxical sleep . Well, that’s what my friends always tell me when we travel.

  7. I just stumbled onto your blog and am going to read through it. I'm another sufferer of back headaches and migraines that is muscle related (14 spinal surgeries). What type of neck brace is it that you use?


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