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Does this story sound familiar?
It’s Sunday morning, the last day of a
three-day trip. You have four hours of fl ying ahead of you to get back home,
but something about the air conditioner last night has left you with stuffy nose and sinuses this morning. You know from your training and experience that fl ying with congested upper airways is not a good thing. As it turns out, one of the others on the trip has some new over-the-counter sinus pills that are “guaranteed” to unstop your breathing passages and let you fl y without any worries about the congestion. Should you take the medication?
You and your spouse are on the second leg
of a fi ve-leg, cross-country fl ight. While visiting relatives, you stayed up late at the party they threw in your honor, ate too much, and the next morning your stomach feels sort of queasy. Your spouse, a non-pilot, offers you a common motion-sickness pill prescribed by her doctor. Should you take the medication?
Get the facts
Just like any other decision (equipment,
weather, etc.) that you must make when you fl y, you should know all the facts before you can answer this question. There are several things that you need to know and take into account before you make the go/no-go decision. Add these to your check list:
First, consider the underlying condition
that you are treating.
What will be the
consequences if the medication doesn’t work
or if it wears off before the fl ight is over?
A good general rule to follow is not to fl y
if you must depend on the medication to
keep the fl ight safe. In other words, if the
untreated condition is one that would prevent
safe fl ying, then you shouldn’t fl y until the
condition improves — whether you take the
medication or not.
Second, you must consider your reaction to
• Remember that you should not fl y if the
There are two broad categories
underlying condition that you are treating
of medication reactions. One is a unique reaction
based on an individual’s biological make-up.
Most people don’t have such reactions but
• Never fl y after taking a new medication
anyone can, given the right medication. Because
for the fi rst time until at least fi ve maximal
of this, you should NEVER fl y after taking any
dosing intervals have passed and no side
medication that you have not taken before. It
is not until after you have taken the medication
• As with alcohol, medications may impair
that you will fi nd out whether you have this
your ability to fl y—even though you feel
• If you have questions about a medication,
Third, consider the potential for adverse
or side effects — unwanted reactions
• When in doubt, safety fi rst—don’t fl y.
to medications. This type of reaction is quite common, and the manufacturer of the
medication lists these on the label. You MUST
When your treating physician prescribes a
carefully read all labeling. If you don’t have
medication for you, be sure to ask about possible
access to the label, then don’t fl y while using the
side effects and the safety of using the medication
while fl ying. Since most of their patients are
Look for such key words as lightheadedness
not pilots, many physicians don’t think about
, or visual disturbance
the special needs of pilots when they prescribe
these side effects are listed or if the label contains
medication. You must also discuss the medical
warning about operating motor vehicles or
condition that is being treated. You may want
machinery, then you should not
fl y while using
to ask your physician to contact your aviation
medical examiner to discuss the implications
Side effects can occur at any time, so even if
of fl ying with the medical condition and the
you’ve taken the same medication in the past
without experiencing side effects, they could still
When your pharmacy fi lls the prescription,
occur the next time. For this reason, you must
let the pharmacist know that you are a pilot.
never fl y after taking a medication with any of
Pharmacists are experts in medication side effects
and can often provide advice that supplements
Side effect concerns of frequently
the information that your physician gives you. The pharmacist will provide you with written
used OTC medications
information about your medication. You should
If you must take over-the-counter medications,
treat this just like the label of an over-the-counter
• Read and follow the label directions.
medication mentioned above. Read, understand,
• If the label warns of signifi cant side effects,
and follow the information and instructions that
do not fl y after taking the medication until
are given with the medication. Never hesitate to
at least fi ve maximal dosing intervals have
discuss possible problems with your physician,
passed. For example, if the directions say
pharmacist, or aviation medical examiner.
to take the medication every 4-6 hours, wait until at least 30 hours after the last dose to fl y.
The Bottom Line
…you will have a medical condition that makes
you uncomfortable but does not impair your
What you must remember about medications
ability to safely fl y. If fl ying is very important,
you may take either over-the-counter medications
…you will develop a medical condition that
or prescription medications — within the
is not safe to fl y with. Whether you take a
medication for the condition or not, you should
Flying is important for many reasons. Not one
wait to fl y until the condition is either gone or
of these reasons, however, is worth risking your
life or the lives of those around you. Treat all
…you will have an ongoing (chronic) medical
medications with caution, and you’ll be around
condition that your physician has prescribed
to become one of the “old” pilots.
a medication to treat. You should discuss the medical condition and treatment with your physician, pharmacist, and aviation medical examiner and make your fl ying decision based on their advice.
Common side effects of frequently used OTC medications
Potential side effects
Palpitations, jitteriness, anxiety, heart attack, stroke
MEDICAL FACTS FOR PILOTS
Publication OK05-0005 (Rev. 6/10)
To order copies of this brochure, contact:
Other Pilot Safety Brochures Available
Aviation Safety Courses Available Through the FAA
AM-400-91/1 Hypoxia: The Higher You Fly, the Less Air.
Spatial Disorientation: Why You Shouldn’t Fly by the Seat of Your Pants
To view these pilot and passenger safety brochures, visit
the Federal Aviation Administration’s Web Site:
Physiological Training Classes for Pilots
If you are interested in taking a one-day aviation physiological training course with altitude
chamber and vertigo demonstrations or a one-day survival course, fi nd out how to sign up for these courses that are offered at 13 locations across the U.S. by visiting this FAA Web site:
For more pilot and traveler safety information, see:
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