Cold and flu season are upon us, and allergy season is right around the corner. Make sure you're prepared and know your medication options, and when it's safe to fly!

QUESTION: How do I know if I have the flu or just a cold? And if I do have the flu, should I stay at home and how soon can I fly?

ANSWER: Both influenza and the common cold are viral illnesses and can mimic one another to some degree. However, the flu normally starts with a general feeling of malaise, headache, and general body aches and a higher temperature. There is a rapid test your healthcare provider can conduct in the office to distinguish flu from a cold.

While both can make one feel utterly miserable, the flu kills people and needs to be taken very seriously. It does this either because one has a pre-existing condition such as heart or lung disease, due to a secondary infection (usually pneumonia contracted because one was active too soon), or from a major immune issue called “cytokine storm.” With the flu, one should stay at home and rest, drink fluids, take symptomatic medications and, if caught early enough, an antiviral drug like oseltamivir (Tamiflu).

Staying away from work is good for you and your colleagues as flu is easily transmitted in close environments and one is contagious a day before symptoms begin and as long as seven days thereafter.

As for flying, one should remain grounded until totally recovered, as a pilot’s reflexes will be dulled by the illness. Of course, be cautious about flying while taking any medications as many over-the-counter drugs are forbidden due to sedating effects – Tamiflu is allowed but again, ensure all symptoms have dissipated. 

I am a big believer in the curative effects of chicken soup and care and attention from a loved one – as long as they don’t get sick!

QUESTION: I have a current Special Issuance medical for a cardiac stent.  It’s valid for about six more months.  Can I get my BasicMed done now or should I wait until my medical actually expires?

ANSWER: That’s an excellent question that we deal with frequently.  Although there is nothing “wrong” about holding a Part 67 medical certificate and a Part 68 BasicMed qualification, we suggest you just continue to fly on your medical certificate until the month it will expire. Then get your BasicMed exam and complete the course to meet the requirements during that month so when your medical certificate expires, you can seamlessly transition to BasicMed with no interruption in your privileges. 


QUESTION: As spring approaches, I am nervous about the impending allergy issues that seem to worsen at this time of the year. Any advice you can provide?

ANSWER: Allergies are a result of an antigen, a “foreign” molecule one encounters in the environment that leads to antibodies to be released by the body. This union provokes cells in the body to become inflamed, releasing all sorts of troublesome secretions. One chemical the body manufactures in response to this chain of events is histamine and this messenger mediates many of the displeasing symptoms one experiences.

Ascertaining what you are allergic to is the first step – animal dander, pollen, house dust mites, certain foods, or household cleaners, for instance. One can be tested for common allergens by the skin prick test whereby a tiny amount is placed under the skin and if it produces an itchy swelling, one has the answer. 

Clearly, avoiding the relevant agent is the best solution but sometimes that is not possible. Allergen immunotherapy is where a healthcare professional will endeavor to desensitize one to the key element by sequentially exposing one to small amounts.  This works for some of nasty buggers and the symptoms, but not everyone responds favorably and may need further follow-up with a specialist. 
Medications that block histamine do tend to work, but they can and do cause sedating side effects, so please don’t fly while taking them! Additionally, if one takes an antihistamine consistently for a period of time, the medication effectiveness can diminish, so you might consider switching meds back and forth.   Some data suggest a diet rich in omega 3 fatty acids (such as found in salmon and other oily fish) may help.

And it goes without saying that it is important to ensure one truly has allergies and not another cause for excessive nasal mucous or itchy eyes.

Portrait of Gary Crump, AOPA's director of medical certification with a Cessna 182 Skylane at the National Aviation Community Center.
Frederick, MD USA
Gary Crump
Gary is the Director of AOPA’s Pilot Information Center Medical Certification Section and has spent the last 32 years assisting AOPA members. He is also a former Operating Room Technician, Professional Firefighter/Emergency Medical Technician, and has been a pilot since 1973.

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