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Upper Respiratory Infections and Barotrauma Among Commercial Pilots.

BACKGROUND: Health incapacitation is a serious threat to flight safety. Therefore, a study conducted 10 yr ago examined the incidents of ear-nose-throat (ENT) barotrauma and upper respiratory infection (URI) among commercial pilots and found that a large number continued to carry out their duties despite the risk of incapacitation. Now, 10 yr later, this new study examines if the attention to URIs has improved.

METHOD: This study was conducted at the Danish Aeromedical Centre over the course of 1 yr with 463 valid respondents to a questionnaire on URIs and ENT barotrauma. These respondents were compared to 940 respondents answering the same questionnaire 10 yr prior in the same setting.

RESULTS: This study shows a significant increase in the number of pilots flying despite signs of an URI from 42.8 to 50.1% and in the number of pilots using decongestant medicine from 43.3 to 59.5%. The proportion of pilots experiencing one or more ENT barotraumas has also increased from 37.4 to 55.5% for barotitis media and from 19.5 to 27.9% for barosinusitis.

CONCLUSION: Half of all pilots in this study fly despite signs of an URI. This is a significant increase and shows that after 10 yr an URI is still not considered a valid reason for reporting in sick despite international aeromedical recommendation. Based on these findings, the study recommends that awareness of the risk of flying with an URI be increased.Boel NM, Klokker M. Upper respiratory infections and barotrauma among commercial pilots. Aerosp Med Hum Perform. 2017; 88(1):17-22.

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