By Seerat Arora 26 Jun 2024 5 min read

Can You Become a Pilot If You Have Asthma?

Let’s start with what Asthma is. It is a respiratory system problem that is common among millions of people around the world. People who dream of flying in the aviation industry often wonder - can you be a pilot with asthma? And the good thing is that you can. Mild asthma doesn’t restrict you from becoming an airline pilot, but you have to manage your systems, considering your weaknesses carefully. 

How Can Asthma Affect Pilots?

Can pilots have asthma? Asthma causes inflammation and narrows the airways which can lead to symptoms like coughing, wheezing, and breath shortness; it is a chronic medical condition. Such symptoms can become worse in flying conditions due to low oxygen levels, cabin pressure changes, and dry air. These situations can cause hypoxia when they come in contact with higher altitudes where the oxygen levels are depleted. 

Asthma medications as well as symptoms can cause the pilot to get distracted while flying, which can hamper their ability to operate the flight safely. A pilot’s focus should not be compromised in any situation, and breathing issues or medication side effects can be a cause of that. 

FAA Medical Certification with Asthma

Strict guidelines have been set by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regarding obtaining a medical certification for asthma, which is necessary if you wish to fly with commercial airlines. Now, the FAA allows pilots to get their certificates with asthma, but it depends on every case, as all of them are unique. 

Usually, the FAA might allow pilots with mild, stable asthma, given it is under control with medications that are approved and accepted by the authorities. This only includes cases of minimal symptoms with rare hospitalizations or exacerbations and the usage of FAA-accepted medications for the condition. 

However, you won’t be approved to obtain your medical certificates if your asthma is severe, requires frequent hospitalizations, or needs you to take medications that aren’t approved by the authorities. The main aim of the FAA is that the pilots aren’t risking their lives (and others) or are prone to medical emergencies onboard. Hence, it makes sense to disqualify such candidates for the overall safety.

Steps to Obtain a Medical Certificate with Asthma

Can you be a pilot with asthma? Yes, but some important steps should be followed to gain a medical certificate if you want to become a pilot with asthma:

Medical Documentation

If you wish to be a pilot with asthma, it is vital to listen to your treating physician. You have to gather all necessary information and documents, including your medical progress reports written within the last 90 days. These notes should include the details of the intensity of your respiratory condition, medications and treatments going on, as well as any improvements or deterioration of the situation.

Aviation Medical Examiner (AME)

The next step is to provide these details to your AME, who is in charge of your case and takes the decision to accept or reject your certification. They determine if you pass the medical requirements for the license you apply for. You may also be asked to go through a pulmonary function test to understand the intensity of your condition. 

The Final Decision

If your medical condition meets the criteria set by the FAA, you might be issued a medical certificate. But, if the standard requirements are not due to the severity of your condition, you may be directed to the authority head office for further questioning or revaluation. In rare cases like these, more testing or information may be required to figure out whether you are eligible to earn the certificate.  

What to Consider as a Pilot with Asthma?

If you have asthma and want to fly, it’s essential to consider these:

  • Carefully manage your breathing condition.
  • Keep a check for any changes in symptoms or medication. 
  • Always keep your inhaler with you while flying, to avoid potential in-flight conditions that could trigger an asthma attack.

Note: A First Class Medical Certificate is required to fly commercial flights, and obtaining that is tough as the rules are stricter, whereas private flying requires a Third Class Medical Certificate, which is significantly lenient. This means it’s easier to get a medical certificate for private pilot jobs than for commercial pilots who have asthma. 

Flying with Asthma

Can pilots have asthma? Yes, pilots can fly with asthma, but it's not as simple as that. Such complex respiratory issues require proper management and paperwork. As asthma is a commonly prevalent condition, the FAA is open to giving certificates to pilots who have mild and stable asthma that is under their control with medications approved by the authorities.

But, the process of obtaining a medical certificate for a pilot with asthma is tougher than the rest as it's a critical issue. They need to undergo the process with their treating physician and AME so that the required flight standards are met correctly. They may have to prove that the medical condition is under control by undergoing pulmonary function tests or showing thorough medical records.

Pilot Medical Requirements

The medical requirements for pilots aren’t just for them. As they are responsible for the aircraft and the passengers, their fitness directly affects the overall safety. A medical certificate is granted only in the case of properly meeting all the required mental health and physical standards to fly commercial aircraft. 
 
Other than asthma, the FAA has set guidelines and regulations for medical conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and some neurological problems. Pilots are subject to regular medical examinations (frequency depends on the pilot's role, country, and airlines) to keep track of any changes in their health.

Conclusion

So, can you be a pilot with asthma? Absolutely, yes! But you need to carefully manage your medical condition by yourself. Pilots with mild and stable asthma can obtain the required certification and have a successful aviation career, given they have the right documentation, FAA-approved treatments and medication, and proper coordination with the treating physician and AME. 

The most important information you need to remember is that pilots with asthma have strict standards and regulations, as safety is the aviation authority’s top priority. Hence, if you are dreaming of becoming a pilot and you have mild asthma, nothing can stop you from achieving your dreams if you undergo the requirements carefully and are cooperative. 
 
Can pilots have asthma? So, in pilot jobs, it is easier to get a medical certificate for asthma to fly private planes than to fly commercial airlines. Hence, it is important to choose the type of pilot license you wish to get before starting the process of becoming a pilot.

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