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Can You Become an Airline Pilot If You Have Asthma?

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One of the common questions we hear from potential students is, can I become an airline pilot if I have asthma?

If you have mild or seasonal asthma that is stable and under control, you should have no trouble becoming a pilot.

As with many medical histories, having asthma may mean a few extra steps when you go to get your FAA medical.

You’ll want to collect all the documentation you have and work with your treating physician to ensure that your AME has all the paperwork they need to issue you your medical certificate.

Here’s a look at how asthma affects pilots and the steps to getting a medical certificate. 

Flying with asthma

How Does Asthma Affect Pilots?

Asthma is a respiratory condition that affects over 200 million people worldwide.

It relates to the long-term inflammation of the lung’s airways, often caused by environmental or genetic factors. While there’s no cure, symptoms can be managed by avoiding triggers and with medications like inhalers.  

The most common medications for treating mild, occasional asthma are approved by the FAA and are considered safe for flight.

This includes most inhalers.

Obviously, you’ll want to ensure you have the inhaler when flying in case your asthma is exacerbated while in flight. 

Severe Asthma

If you have a severe case of asthma, which requires medications that are not approved by the FAA or frequent hospitalizations, then your AME will defer your case to the FAA’s head office in Oklahoma City.

Having frequent, severe attacks is a disqualifying condition.

Even if approved, be aware that your condition must be managed carefully. 

Asthma symptoms and treatments pose a distraction for pilots.

Conditions typical of flying can also make asthma worse, such as lower oxygen levels at altitude, colder and dryer air, airborne pollen and pollution, chemicals in the plane and exhaust fumes, and cabin pressure changes.

Also, you should be aware that a pilot with asthma may be more affected by hypoxia than a non-asthmatic pilot. 

Become a pilot with Asthma

Keep in mind that the standards differ based on which class of medical certificate you are after. If you apply for a First Class Medical, the AME must be more cautious than if you request a Third Class.

For this reason, getting a First Class medical during your first trip to the AME is always a good idea. Doing so will uncover any potential issues for those wishing to pursue a long-term career in aviation.

Getting an FAA Medical Certificate with Asthma

The FAA provides this worksheet to determine if an applicant with asthma can get a medical certificate. You must provide your AME with clinical progress notes from your treating physician that are no more than 90 days old when you present them.

Refer to the sheet for specifics, but here’s a general idea: 

  • The condition must be stable, with no changes recommended.
  • You must not have symptoms or use approved medication more than two days per week. 
  • You must not have had any in-patient hospitalizations and no more than two outpatient procedures for exacerbations in the prior year. 

Approved medications include most inhalers, including beta-agonist and corticosteroid forms.

If you’re on a long-term course of steroids or monoclonal antibodies, you’ll need to get more information from your doctor about flying. 

Some applicants may have to take a pulmonary function test, depending on their medication use and frequency. 

If you do not meet the criteria listed on the worksheet, your AME will have to defer your case to Oklahoma City. You may be granted a Special Issuance medical based on your case history. 

Flying with Asthma

Overall, the FAA’s rules make it simple and straightforward to receive your medical certificate, at least in most cases.

But asthma is a condition that must be carefully managed and monitored.

If you experience worsening symptoms or change your medication, you must work with your treating physician and AME to ensure you meet flight standards. 

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