Healthy Pilot

Taking your fit-to-fly obligations seriously.


This week, we’re launching a new periodic column called Healthy Pilot. While BasicMed has simplified the medical authorization needed to fly, it introduces its own challenges in that now you have to self-certify for fitness to fly for much longer periods. It’s unrealistic to believe there aren’t legitimate health concerns related to flight safety and your health in general, so we’re making available to AVweb readers the vast online medical resources of one of AVweb’s sister websites, University Health News to help understand health issues that might impact your status as PIC.

First, don’t think complying with Basic Med is like falling off a log. If you want to be legal, you have to take an online course, pass it with better than an 80-percent grade, then persuade your doctor to examine you in relation to a 22-point checklist.

The purpose of Healthy Pilotis to serve as a periodic assessment of some of the items on that checklist, so you can boost your self-awareness.

Right at the very top of BasicMed Section 2 is a Yes-No question regarding frequent or severe headaches. Later posts will get into things like dizziness, eye or vision trouble, or asthma/lung conditions, etc. etc.…but for now let’s dwell a minute on headaches. BasicMed Section 2 wants to know if yours are “frequent or severe.”

According to University Health News, headaches come in all sorts of shades and varieties. So when your physician asks you if you’ve had any headaches lately, this simple query could open up a wide range of potential responses. Knowing which type of headache you are experiencing could speed treatment.

According to UHN, “A cluster headache is the most severe form of primary headache.” They usually come at the same time of day or night, and typically affect one side of the head or the other. They’re also sneaky, lasting from six to 12 weeks before entering into remission and then returning. Red wine, smoking, and being male seem to trigger attacks, which resemble migraines in character and severity.

As the name implies, sinus headache involves the sinus cavities and is normally accompanied by a dripping nose and infection. A sinus headache when you’re about to go IMC is bad enough, but nasal spray remedies like Afrin are also problematic, with the potential of inducing drowsiness that could interfere with flying skills.

That brings us to your garden-variety, skull-splitting migraine. If you are a migraineur, you know the symptoms at onset—pain, queasiness, and often a visual “aura” that, needless to say, makes flying a no-go.

Perhaps the easiest headache to contend with comes from dehydration, and the solution there is to simply note symptoms – thirst, dry skin, muscle cramps, infrequent urination, dizziness—and hydrate accordingly.

There are other types of headaches (tension, exertion, behind the eye, and the aptly named “icepick headache,” so knowing which type you are experiencing will go a long way toward resolving it so you can “taxi into position” without much fanfare.

Next up from Avweb’s Healthy Pilot: Episodes of dizziness and fainting.