Pilots and Medications
Stuffy nose? Fever? Combine these symptoms with over-the-counter meds, and you could have a recipe for disaster in the pilot’s seat.
Just like any other decision that you must make when you fly, you should know all the facts before you take any over-the-counter medications:
- First, what is your underlying condition? Will it allow for safe flying?
-If not, you should not fly until the condition improves.
- Next, do you know how the medication you are planning to take will affect you, and how your body will react?
-You should NEVER fly after taking any medication that you have not taken before.
- Be sure to consider adverse reactions listed on the label. Key words include “lightheadedness,” “dizziness,” “drowsiness,” or “visual disturbance.”
-DO NOT FLY if these side effects are listed or if the label contains any warning signs about operating motor vehicles or machinery while taking the medication.
-Some people mistakenly think an over-the-counter medication is weak or non-threatening. That’s simply not true, especially for diphenhydramine (Benadryl).
- Side effects can occur at any time, even if you’ve taken the same medication in the past without experiencing any side effects.
-That is why you should NEVER fly after taking a medication with the side effects listed above.
If you must take over-the-counter medications, please follow these tips before you decide to fly:
- Read and follow label directions.
- If the label warns of significant side effects, wait until at least five maximum dosing intervals have passed before you fly. For example, if the directions say take the medication every 4-6 hours, wait at least 30 hours before you fly. Other medications may have longer or shorter intervals which is why it’s important to talk to your Aviation Medical Examiner (AME).
- Never fly after taking a new medication for the first time until at least five maximal dosing intervals have passed, and no side effects are noted.
- Do not fly if the underlying condition that you are treating would make you unsafe in the cockpit.
- As with alcohol, medications could impair your ability to fly, even though you feel fine.
- If you have a question about a medication, please ask your AME.
- When in doubt, don’t fly!
When your doctor prescribes a medication, ask about possible side effects and the safety of using the medication while flying. Many doctors do not think about the special needs of pilots when they prescribe medication, so it’s important for you to ask questions.
When your pharmacy fills the prescription, let the pharmacist know you are a pilot. Pharmacists are experts in the side effects of medication and can often provide important advice. You’ll also want to ask about the potential for drug interactions with any over-the-counter medications you are taking now or plan to take in the future.
- Read, understand, and follow the information and instructions that are given with the medication.
- Discuss any questions with your doctor, pharmacist, or AME.
- When in doubt, stay safe and don’t fly!
What is Loss of Control (LOC)?
An LOC accident involves an unintended departure of an aircraft from controlled flight. LOC can happen when the aircraft enters a flight regime outside its normal flight envelope and quickly develops into a stall or spin. It can introduce an element of surprise – the “startle factor”—for the pilot.
Message from FAA Administrator Michael P. Huerta:
The FAA and industry are working together to prevent Loss of Control accidents and save lives. You can help make a difference by joining our #Fly Safe campaign. Every month on FAA.gov, we provide pilots with Loss of Control solutions developed by a team of experts — some of which are already reducing risk. I hope you will join us in this effort and spread the word. Follow #FlySafe on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. I know that we can reduce these accidents by working together as a community.
More about Loss of Control
Contributing factors may include:
- Poor judgment or aeronautical decision making
- Failure to recognize an aerodynamic stall or spin and execute corrective action
- Intentional failure to comply with regulations
- Failure to maintain airspeed
- Failure to follow procedure
- Pilot inexperience and proficiency
- Use of prohibited or over-the-counter drugs, illegal drugs, or alcohol
Did you know?
- In 2015, 384 people died in 238 general aviation accidents.
- Loss of Control was the number one cause of these accidents.
- Loss of Control happens in all phases of flight. It can happen anywhere and at any time.
- There is one fatal accident involving Loss of Control every four days.
Learn more about Medications and Flying with this FAA Brochure.
This FAA Fact Sheet will give you more tips on the safe use of medications while flying.
Need more convincing? This FAA Civil Aerospace Medical Institute report details how drugs and alcohol play a role in aviation fatality accidents.
You can find more research from the FAA Office of Aerospace Medicine here.
The AME Guide provides a list of medications that can impact your fitness for flight here. This list tells AMEs when they should not issue, or not allow an airman to fly. It’s a good resource for airmen to help decide what precautions they should take before returning to flight.
Be sure to also check out the article, “From FDA to FAA — How FAA Evaluates Drugs for Aeromedical Use” in the Jan/Feb 2013 issue of FAA Safety Briefing.
The FAASafety.gov website has Notices, FAAST Blasts, online courses, webinars and more on key general aviation safety topics.
Check out GA Safety Enhancements fact sheets on the main FAA Safety Briefing website, including Flight Risk Assessment Tools.
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 NASA 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.