AOPA Online For Members - AOPA Pilot Information Center - Medical Certification

Frequently Asked Questions—Illnesses

Migraines Allergies/Hay Fever Skin Cancer
Kidney Stones Kidney Transplant "The Bends"
DUI Motion Sickness Disability Retirement
Colds & Flu Coronary Stent Prostate Cancer

Illnesses Q. Can I get a medical if I have migraine headaches?

A. It is possible to obtain a medical certificate if you are not taking any disqualifying medications, the migraines respond to treatment, and they don’t occur frequently. The triptan migraine medications such as sumatriptan (Imitrex) and zolmitriptan (Zomig) are acceptable to the FAA as long as there are no adverse side effects.  You will need to provide a status report from the treating doctor that describes the frequency and severity of your migraines. If they occur infrequently, are not incapacitating, and respond well to medication, the FAA will probably be able to issue you a medical certificate.

Q. I suffer from hay fever and allergies. What medications can I use that won’t be a problem for flying?

A. The FAA allows the use of non-sedating antihistamine medications. Other prescription or over the counter (OTC) drugs might also be acceptable if there are no adverse side effects.  If you’re taking any medication(s) at the time of your next scheduled FAA medical examination, you should have a report from your treating doctor providing a summary of your condition and naming the medications being used. The AME can issue your medical at the time of examination provided the symptoms are under control, the medication is acceptable to the FAA, and there are no adverse side effects. You can view a listing of many commonly prescribed medications that the FAA allows online.

Q. I had skin cancer recently. Can I get certified?

A. The FAA certification policy varies considerably with the type and location of the cancer. You will need a detailed report of the cancer, including records of all treatment. Certification is on a case-by-case basis and many variables affect the decision. Generally speaking, lower grade malignancies such as basal cell or squamous carcinoma that have not spread are more easily approved than a more serious melanoma.

Q: I just passed a kidney stone. Can I continue to fly on my current medical? Do I have to report this to the FAA now?

A: The presence of a kidney stone is considered a disqualifying “medical deficiency” under FAR 61.53. Flying privileges are suspended while a deficiency exists, but an immediate report to the FAA is not required. When there are no longer any stones present in the urinary tract or kidney and you receive clearance from your treating doctor to resume normal activities, you may continue operating on your current medical until the normal date of expiration. You should report the kidney stone and provide additional information at the time of your next FAA physical examination.

Q. Does the FAA allow certification for anyone who has had a kidney transplant?

A. Kidney transplant recipients may be certificated at any class.  You will need complete hospital records and a current status report from your treating doctor that adequately documents your medical history leading up to the transplant. If the records show satisfactory recovery and stability without complications of organ rejection or adverse side effects from immunosuppressant drugs, issuance of a medical certificate is very possible.

Q: What are "the bends" and how dangerous is the condition for pilots?

A: “The bends” is the common name for decompression sickness (DCS), often associated with scuba diving or flying, and particularly dangerous with the combination of the two activities. Basically, it’s the release of an excess amount of nitrogen into the body. What causes it? The air we breathe contains about 80% nitrogen, which is dissolved in our blood and held there by the pressure around us: air pressure if you are on the ground, water pressure if you are under water. When the surrounding pressure is reduced, either by flying to a high altitude (at 18,000 feet, sea level pressure is halved) or by rising quickly to the water’s surface (pressure doubles for every 33 feet of depth), the nitrogen is released in the form of bubbles in the blood. This causes pain, and lots of it, and in severe cases, can be fatal. Chapter 8-1-2 of the AIM states that a pilot or passenger who intends to fly after scuba diving should allow the body sufficient time to rid itself of excess nitrogen absorbed during diving. You’ll find more information on the bends on AOPA online.

Q. I had a DUI. When do I report it to the FAA?

A. You need to report any alcohol related motor vehicle action, including a DUI, to the FAA Civil Aviation Security Division according to FAR 61.15(e) within 60 days of the administrative action or conviction. You should also report it at the time of your next medical application. (Pilot Protection Services participants: Warren Silberman has published an article on this topic with additional information.

Q: I’ve been taking flying lessons for a couple of months and have recently experienced some motion sickness. I’m discouraged by this and am wondering if there is a way to get over it.

A: Here’s some encouraging news: Some surveys indicate that more than 25 percent of airline pilots have experienced motion sickness. The symptoms most likely occur because of conflicting stimuli in the inner ear (the semicircular canals) where the balance mechanisms reside and the resulting visual cues that send information to the brain. During the early stages of flight training when student pilots are introduced to shallow banked turns, these strange new sensory inputs often trigger at least the milder symptoms of motion sickness. There are several steps that you can take to minimize the effects of motion sickness, both before and during the flight. And except in rare circumstances, most people can eventually overcome the annoying symptoms. You can read more about motion sickness online.

Q: Will a disability retirement affect the issuance of a medical certificate?

A: A physical disability that results in disability compensation doesn’t necessarily affect one’s ability to hold a medical certificate. The FAA medical application now includes a specific question about receiving medical disability benefits. If the answer is yes, and the medical condition hasn’t been reported on previous medical applications, you will need to provide supporting documentation to your AME. To see if your specific medical condition could affect the issuance of a medical, complete AOPA’s TurboMedical as an educational tool to prepare for completing the actual FAA medical application. You simply answer the questions, and TurboMedical will refer you to more information about reporting the condition.

Q: I’ve read the Part 67 medical regulations and notice that only a few medical conditions are mentioned as disqualifying. How do I know if I can legally fly during the time, for example, that I have a bad cold or the flu?

A: Part 67 describes the minimum medical standards that must be met for the issuance of a medical certificate. The regulation includes 15 medical conditions that are disqualifying by “history or clinical diagnosis.” The FAA evaluates all other medical conditions on a case-by-case basis. However, the pilot has a responsibility to “self-ground” anytime he or she knows of a medical condition or is using a medication that would make him or her unable to meet the requirements of the medical certificate. That responsibility is explained in FAR 61.53, an important regulation that can directly affect your decision to fly today.

Q: I recently had a coronary stent procedure and am waiting for the six-month recovery period to expire before I can apply for a special-issuance medical. Under these conditions, may I use this time to do a flight review and required instrument approaches for currency?

A: Yes. Not having a medical prohibits you from acting as pilot in command, but you may accomplish a flight review with a Certificated Flight Instructor on board. You can also perform and log the instrument approaches required to meet the recency requirements with another appropriately rated pilot on board who is acting as pilot in command. For more information on this topic, read AOPA’s subject report, Logbooks and Logging Time .

Q: I have been diagnosed with prostate cancer. Am I going to be able to get a medical and fly again?

A: Although not one of the specifically disqualifying medical conditions reference in Part 67 of the FARs, a report of prostate cancer on the medical application will require additional documentation before the FAA can issue a medical certificate. At the time of your FAA examination, you will need an evaluation from your treating physician, including the admission history and physical reports, surgical reports, pathology reports, discharge summary, and a current, detailed status report. If the records show no evidence of metastasis (spread) of the tumor to other organs, a normal PSA, completion of all treatment with no adverse side effects, and a favorable prognosis, the AME, with the approval of the Regional Flight Surgeon or the FAA in Oklahoma City, may issue a medical certificate at the time of examination.

Updated June 4, 2012