Say NO! To Self-Medication: First a few basics…

Temptation to arrest, say, the beginning of a seasonal viral illness must be very strong in almost every pilot, civil or military. This may be to go ahead with the planned trip or sortie next morning. Invariably this may happen due to compulsions of the job or one’s personal training needs. But such a temptation to treat oneself, or self-medication, must be avoided for the reasons of both personal and aviation safety. Therefore, pilots assume direct responsibility for their safety when the decide to consult their airline/squadron doctor, besides ensuring the safety of those under their command and the aircraft they fly.    

Similarly, one of the responsibilities of an airline/squadron doctor towards the pilots under their care, is to ensure their personal safety, both  in-flight and on ground. benefits of this approach is to keep the ‘pilot patient’ comfortable during the healing process, to restore him/her to health, and to preserve and prolong his/her active flying career. This is not only good practice of occupational medicine, but also cost-effective industrial safety being practiced at a very personal, physician-patient, more appropriately, airline/squadron Doctor-Pilot relationship level. Thus, prescribing medicines does becomes necessary, the drugs should be selected so as to produce:-

  • an early and fast, permanent cure,
  • do no harm,
  • and have minimal side effects, if any.

However, it is important to remember that the pilots may seek consultation from physicians who may not be aware of the hazards associated with taking medications while flying. Thus, they may fail to warn their patient, the pilot, of the associated dangers, or fail to advise him/her not to fly till recovered and even fail to label the prescriptions with appropriate warnings. A second and related hazard is that all the medication may not be used up with the present episode of sickness, and the leftover drugs may be kept aside for use for another episode of suck an illness. By then the pilot may have forgotten the advise about the side-effects or restriction for flight duty, thus continuing their flying in a likely compromised state of mental and physical fitness.

Perhaps the most important factor to be considered when deciding whether to advise temporary unfitness for flying duties for a pilot on medication is not the medication itself, but rather the disease or the physical state for which the medication is prescribed. Normally, any illness significant enough to bring the pilot to the doctor or to necessitate the doctor to prescribe drugs is sufficient by itself to warrant advise not to fly till recovered. This takes care of whether the disease or the drug has effects or side effects, which would impair the physical, mental, or emotional functioning of the pilot, thus ensuring not compromising his/her safety in the cockpit. Therefore, in most of the situations the proper course on part of the treating physician is to advise the pilot-patient not to fly until their illness and their need for medication have passed.

Read More


1. Ernsting’s Aviation Medicine. Rainford DJ, Gradwell DP (Editors). 4th Edition. Hodder Arnold, London 2006.

2. Fundamentals of Aerospace Medicine. DeHart RL, Davis JR (Editors). 3rd Edition. Lippincott, Williams & Wilkins, Philadelphia 2002.

3. Human Performance & Limitations – JAA ATPL Theoretical Knowledge Manual. 2nd Edition. Jeppesen GmbH, Frankfurt 2001.

Acknowledgement Image courtesy


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