The Safe and Healthy Traveler’s Guide to Packing: Part Six – Managing Migraines


Man with a migraine holding his headIf you are one of the 30 million plus Americans that suffer from migraines, you know how debilitating the sensitivity to light, sound, air pressure and movement can be.  Traveling with a migraine can be especially tricky, particularly when in a foreign country where the treatment options may not be the same as in the U.S. So while you are packing, consider the likelihood of needing to manage a migraine on your trip.

Some migraines can be hormonal (mainly in women) and therefore the timing can be rather predictable. In these cases, try to avoid travel during times you are more likely to suffer a migraine. Though this isn’t fail-safe, it could help to decrease the chances.

For many, migraines can be quite unpredictable and impossible to prevent. However, there are a few things you can do to prepare yourself in case you do get a migraine while traveling.

If you have a history of migraines, bring any medication (over the counter or prescription) that has worked for you in the past. Keep it in its original bottle — to avoid trouble at customs — and make sure you know the generic name in addition to the brand name. Medications often go by different brand names overseas, but if you know the generic name, the pharmacist or doctor can provide a similar drug if you need it.

A search for triptans (the most effective class of drugs for the majority of migraine sufferers) on HTH Worldwide’s mPassport mobile application returned this information:

Imitrex is available in the US as tablets (25, 50, 100 mg), or as a nasal spray (5, 10, 20 mg/spray).  It is most commonly called Imigran in other countries, although other names include Suvalan (Australia), Sumitriptan (Canada), Sumaptan (Egypt), Imiject (France), Migratan or Suminat (India), Imitag (Ireland), Sumatridex (Israel), Sumitran (Malaysia, Singapore), Sumamigren (Poland), Migralevel Ultra (UK) and even Dan Tong Jing (guess which country sell it as this).

But medications are only part of the plan. Migraines can be triggered by lack of sleep and physical stress. Try to adjust to your host country’s sleep/wake cycle as quickly as possible.  If you are taking an overnight flight and have trouble sleeping, an over-the-counter sleep aid can help you get some rest and adjust more quickly.  Melatonin, a natural hormone produced by the pineal gland, can be taken in supplement form to help you adjust your internal clock more quickly.  Both melatonin and exposure to the natural light cycle of your destination are widely recommended for reducing jet lag which may often bring on a migraine.

If you have problems with noise and light during a migraine, bring ear plugs and an eye mask with you on your travels in an effort to lessen your exposure to these potential triggers.

Certain foods may enhance a migraine in some people. If this is you, bring along plenty of snacks that don’t amplify your pain to ensure that you have some food options that won’t bother you.

Then there’s caffeine — this is tricky as some migraine remedies contain small amounts of caffeine to open your blood vessels. However, some studies show that caffeine can actually make a migraine worse. Based on your personal experience, you will either want to embrace or avoid caffeine.

If you tend to get nauseous from migraines, ginger pills (or candies) can be helpful to relieve nausea and can be found in most health food stores.

Stay hydrated. It may be tempting to try that French wine or German lager, but it probably won’t be worth it! Water is the best thing to drink during a migraine, especially on a plane where people are already prone to dehydration.

Stay active. This can be tricky when battling a migraine, but research has shown that exercise can bring relief. You don’t have to go for a 10 mile jog, but exploring your destination on foot for a few hours may allow you to use sightseeing as therapy.

Finally, choose your destinations and seasons carefully, if possible. Some people feel their migraines worsen in humid, high pressure climates, as well as at high altitudes.

By the way, the 14th International Headache Congress that met in Philadelphia over the weekend heard Cindy McCain give the keynote address chronicling her battle with migraines and the global prevalence of this affliction.  She is campaigning for a cure of what is considered by the World Health Organization as “one of the most disabling medical disorders in existence.”

Fellow migraine sufferers, share your remedies!


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