The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the general aviation (GA) community’s national #FlySafe campaign helps educate GA pilots about safety issues, including loss of control (LOC), powerplant failure, and controlled flight into terrain (CFIT).
Stay safe! This series will show you how you can incorporate safety into every flight.
Why Can’t I Take That Medication?
You have a new prescription medicine. Or, maybe you just have a stuffy nose and picked up a decongestant at the drugstore. Why is it important to flying? And why are the medicines you take so important to your safety, and the safety of those who fly with you?
While medicines can help you feel better, they can also lessen your ability to think clearly or react quickly. Some drugs can really put a damper on your ability to control the aircraft. Others can impair your judgement and decision-making skills. You don’t want either of these impairments when you’re up in the air.
There’s also the matter of the condition that created your need for the medication. Are you sharing all of your medical conditions with your Aviation Medical Examiner (AME)? We understand why you may be hesitant to do so, since some medical conditions can prevent you from getting into the cockpit right away. However, once your AME knows the full story, he or she can work with you and the FAA to make sure you are flying safely.
First, you’ll need to do a full disclosure with your AME. Tell him or her what medications you are taking. Talk about your medical history. Find out if there are alternative treatment options that could allow you to keep flying. The bottom line: your AME needs to know the full story.
Some of the most common medications that can slow you down are antihistamines. You will find them in allergy medications. They are very good at making you sleepy, so much so that diphenhydramine (Benadryl®) is often used as an over-the-counter sedative and is the sedating agent in most nighttime pain medications. You may think that these medications are innocent, but the NTSB finds that sedating antihistamines are the most commonly detected medications in fatal accidents.
The second most common are cardiovascular drugs, which include meds for high blood pressure. Some less common problem-makers include anti-diarrheal drugs, some of which contain opioids. Anti-seizure drugs, some smoking cessation drugs, and some antidepressants can be problematic too. If you take any of these, work with your AME to find other options that are not impairing or disqualifying. Chances are that those options are available.
Be aware also that the impact of a medication, prescription or OTC, can change with altitude and stress, so feeling fine on the ground is not a pass for taking it in flight.
Flight Instructor Role
If you are a flight instructor, it is critical that you communicate information on medication use. Your influence will likely have a lasting impact on your student. Be sure to take the time to properly cover this topic. Your student’s safety could depend on it.
Where Can I Get More Information?
This FAA Fact Sheet will give you a good overview.
Next, check out the AME Guide, which is where the FAA provides information on how different medications will affect your fitness for flight. You can also find some “don’t-fly” times for some of those medications.
You can also find good information through trusted government sites, like the National Institute of Health’s Medline Site.
Good information can be found in the FAA’s Medications and Flying Safety brochure.
Check out the 57 Seconds to Safer Flying video for more information on medication safety.
Learn more about the Do Not Fly medications through this section of the AME Guide.
The FAA’s Aerospace Medicine division has published new Technical Reports, including a study on antihistamine use.
The Final Word…
Fly regularly with a certified flight instructor who will challenge you to review what you know, explore new horizons, and to always do your best.
Be sure to document your achievement in the WINGS Pilot Proficiency Program. It’s a great way to stay on top of your game and keep your flight review current.
Curious about FAA regulations (Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations)? It’s a good idea to stay on top of them. You can find current FAA regulations on this website.
The FAASafety.gov website has Notices, FAAST Blasts, online courses, webinars, and more on key general aviation safety topics.
The WINGS Pilot Proficiency Program helps pilots build an educational curriculum suitable for their unique flight requirements. It is based on the premise that pilots who maintain currency and proficiency in the basics of flight will enjoy a safer and more stress-free flying experience.
The General Aviation Joint Steering Committee (GAJSC) is comprised of government and industry experts who work together to use data to identify risk, pinpoint trends through root cause analysis, and develop safety strategies to reduce the risk of GA accidents. The GAJSC combines the expertise of many key decision makers in the FAA, several government agencies such as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and stakeholder groups. Industry participants include the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, Experimental Aircraft Association, General Aviation Manufacturers Association, Light Aircraft Manufacturers Association, National Business Aviation Association, National Air Transportation Association, National Association of Flight Instructors, Society of Aviation and Flight Educators, and the aviation insurance industry. The National Transportation Safety Board and the European Aviation Safety Agency participate as observers.