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Legal drugs

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Coming to a town near you
Mar 27, 2002
Just wondering what is legal to take for a headache and fly? Actualy if anybody knows of any drug at all (not just headache medecine) that is legal to fly on, that would be appreciated too. Is there any over the counter drugs you guys don't leave home without?
The Drifter
"Legal" drugs

Theoretically, any medicine you use is illegal, because you may have a medical condition that is disqualifying for flight. So, again theoretically, if you have a headache, unless the FAA has cleared you to use a certain medicine for headaches, you cannot exercise the privileges of your certificate. This is asinine, of course.

You might ask your AME for suggestions. Bearing in mind that an AME is the FAA's industrial physician and has its interests at heart and not yours, a better idea where you can't be fouled is to call the AOPA. www.leftseat.com is a decent aviation medical website.

Personally, I like Tylenol for headaches.

Hope this helps this headache a little. :)
Bobbysam gave the best & safest answer you will get. However, since you asked, I carry:

Extra Strength Excedrin
Afrin (nasal spray)
Immodium AD tablets (for those 3rd world hershey squirts)

I rarely use any of these, but I take them along because of times I wished I had 'em. Fly safe and consult your AME for best advice.
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Several years ago (and this isn't too recent, don't recall the details) a night carrier landing accdient was determined to have been the result of impairment by the pilot. The incapacitation, or impairment, was the result of the use of an over-the-counter nasal medication; a spray. I believe it was afrin.

The FAA does not approve medications. The FAA has a short list of medications which have been determined to have no general side effects which present a psyiological hazard for flying. However, the FAA does not approve these medications for use when flying. Further, the FAA holds that of equal or greater significance is the fact that the medication must be taken in the first place.

The medication may not be disqualifying in that it may have no significant side effects, but the condition itself may certainly be disqualifying under 14 CFR 61.53 (see below).

I can tell you I've had emergency hospitalization following a sinus implosion that occured while flying as a passenger, and it was the most intense pain I've ever experienced. This has happened twice. The first time I had to visit the ER twice, and the second time years later, I was deaf for a month. In the first case, I had no idea I was sick; I had no symptoms. This is quite similiar to presenting symptoms and hiding them with medication. The result may be the same. The stuffy nose may be gone, but the sinus is still a ticking bomb. This applies to many conditions.

I suggest the following links:



§ 61.53 Prohibition on operations during medical deficiency.

(a) Operations that require a medical certificate. Except as provided for in paragraph (b) of this section, a person who holds a current medical certificate issued under part 67 of this chapter shall not act as pilot in command, or in any other capacity as a required pilot flight crewmember, while that person:

(1) Knows or has reason to know of any medical condition that would make the person unable to meet the requirements for the medical certificate necessary for the pilot operation; or

(2) Is taking medication or receiving other treatment for a medical condition that results in the person being unable to meet the requirements for the medical certificate necessary for the pilot operation.

(b) Operations that do not require a medical certificate. For operations provided for in § 61.23(b) of this part, a person shall not act as pilot in command, or in any other capacity as a required pilot flight crewmember, while that person knows or has reason to know of any medical condition that would make the person unable to operate the aircraft in a safe manner.
Not that I reccomend talking too much to AME's, but ask him/her for pre-approved OTC meds. My old flight surgeon (Navy) gave blanket approval for a few medicines to be used no more than once before seeing him Stuff like tylenol and the like. In fact, at a safety standdown, he gave us all a bottle of Afrin and told us to keep it in out helmet bags in case of a sinus block.

Take it easy,

Nasal sprays

Great advice above, but watch it with the nasal sprays. You can get rebound congestion. Twenty-five years ago, I was having bad nasal and sinus problems and was using nasal sprays. I found that when I used them I needed to use more of them because I became more congested. I didn't realize it but I was hooked on nasal sprays.

I finally saw a specialist, who got me off the sprays and gave me Otrivin nose drops. It's now available o-t-c. Use the children's formula.
Do not buy Asprin overseas. In many countries, they use small amounts of codiene in the formula. If you get drug tested, you're history without a prescription.

This happened to a US air carrier pilot last year.
Absolutely correct about Afrin -- not only are you impaired if you use it, but after about 3 days of continuous use, it is very hard to stop using it without experiencing a more severe sinus problem.

As Chunk implied: If the only way you can descend without blowing out your sinuses is to use it -- you are probably better off using it ONE TIME to get back on the ground. The option is potentially blowing out an ear drum and spending months on the ground. Good judgement would suggest having the other pilot fly and tell him/her the reason. Upon landing, however, you should ground yourself and get treatment for the cause of your sinus problem.

Best bet is to not fly with a problem. The gotcha is going up soon after you have had a headcold and realizing during the dscent that you chose poorly.

Fly safe -- don't push it. Do not fly impaired -- same goes for fatigue. Excellent discussion.
What about medicine that has a prescription.For example, I shattered a disc in my back and while I am doing physical therapy, it sometimes acts up and really hurts. I have not been flying so it hasn't really come up yet, but I ams supposed to start in two weeks.

The question is that I have a legal script for Norco (hydrocodone) to take when I really hurt my back. I know I can't take it and fly, but say I don't have to fly until 6:30PM on a Tuesday, and I hurt my back Monday afternoon at Physical Therapy , can I take the Norco to kill the pain after and still fly early evening on Tuesday? It would no longer have any effect on me, but it would be in my system. obvioiusly.

I will be clearing this with my ME next week anyway. I may end up having to skip Physical Therapy when I ave to fly or something, but I was curious to see how you all look at this.


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