Air travel may not be associated with continued neurological dysfunction after concussion, according to new research published in JAMA Network Open. The study indicates that flying after concussion has little impact on recovery for athletes.
Although air travel is common among athletes, little is known about whether it is safe for a recently concussed person to be exposed to reduced oxygen pressure inside an aircraft cabin.
“In clinic, I have had patients ask me if flying soon after concussion can affect their recovery,” said study author Tara L. Sharma, a clinical assistant professor at the University of Washington.”
“I was not able to give them a definitive response given the paucity of literature on this topic. Because of this, my colleagues at UCLA and I felt that further investigation into whether flying aggravated concussion symptoms or prolonged recovery was warranted.”
The researchers examined data from 3,480 National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) athletes and military cadets who experienced a concussion from August 3, 2014, to September 13, 2018. The data was collected by the Concussion Assessment, Research, and Education Consortium, known as the CARE Consortium — a massive research project seeking to better understand how concussion affects the brain and to improve its diagnosis, treatment, and prevention.
Sharma and her colleagues found no differences in recovery time between participants who flew within 72 hours of a concussion and those who didn’t fly.
“Although it is still unclear whether symptoms may worsen during flight, we now know that flying soon after concussion may not lead to prolonged recovery in athletes. Further studies need to be done to see if flying can exacerbate concussion-related symptoms and prolong recovery in the general population. However, it is overall reassuring that air travel may not cause lasting symptoms,” Sharma explained.
The researcher cautioned that the participants in the study had better cardiorespiratory function than the population at large, which could “enable them to better tolerate low ambient pressure during flight.”
“Whether or not concussion symptoms worsen during flight and whether long-haul flights can lead to prolonged recovery has yet to be addressed. This is important as it will allow us to further educate patients on how flying after concussion can influence their symptoms,” Sharma added.
The study, “Flying After Concussion and Symptom Recovery in College Athletes and Military Cadets“, was authored by Tara L. Sharma, Julia Morrow Kerrigan, David L. McArthur, Kevin Bickart, Steven P. Broglio, Thomas W. McAllister, Michael McCrea, and Christopher C. Giza.