As part of its #FlySafe campaign to help educate general aviation pilots about safety issues, the FAA has released new information about pilots and the medications, both prescribed and over the counter.
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, FAA officials note.
“Some drugs can really put a damper on your ability to control the aircraft. Others can impair your judgment 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)?
FAA officials say they “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, FAA officials advise.
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, FAA officials said.
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.
Check out the 57 Seconds to Safer Flying video for more information on medication safety.
The FAA’s Aerospace Medicine division has published new Technical Reports, including a study on antihistamine use.