Answers for Pilots: Keep up with your meds

April 1, 2012

Medications affecting your flying

We all enjoy the beauty of blossoming fruit trees each spring and the gradual transition of the landscape from brown to green. While our eyes delight in the flourishing scenery, our sinuses may complain. Headaches and congestion mark the onset of allergy season for many pilots. Some medications—even those purchased over-the-counter—have side effects that make them unsafe to take when flying. Double-check your allergy meds to be sure they are FAA-approved. Search AOPA’s online medication database by the drug’s trade name, generic name, type of medication, or the medical condition being treated to find out whether—and under what conditions—the FAA has approved it for pilots.

Although there are infrequent changes to the FAA’s list of allowed or disallowed medications, those that do occur are important. One significant recent change is the required dosing interval for the popular over-the-counter cold medicine, Nyquil. The FAA has increased the time interval between a pilot’s last dose and take-off from 12 hours to 60 hours—which can make a big difference in flight planning.

Another medication—Pradaxa—was very close to receiving FAA approval but, because of side-effects including uncontrolled bleeding, is no longer under consideration. Pradaxa has been, and still is, advertised heavily on TV and pilots should be aware that this new generation anti-coagulant blood thinner is not approved for airmen.

When is the last time you checked on the medications you are taking? Buying them over the counter doesn’t necessarily mean you can take them and immediately climb into an aircraft as pilot in command. For many medications, the FAA had increased the time from last dose to flight from double-the-dosing-interval to five-times. Double-check AOPA’s medication database to make sure you are in compliance with FAA requirements. And of course, give us a call with any questions Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern time, 800-USA-AOPA (872-2672).

Kathy Dondzila

Kathy Dondzila | Manager, Technical Communications, Pilot Information Center

Technical Communications Manager, Kathy Dondzila, joined AOPA in 1990 and is an instrument-rated private pilot.