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Managing Diabetes as a Pilot

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The profession of an airline pilot can be an exciting career choice. There has been a level of glamor applied to the role of the pilot. The pilot has control of the plane, the satisfaction of providing safe travel, and traveling to see new places. With the exciting side of piloting a plane, there is also the reality that the pilot’s work is a physically and emotionally demanding job even for people in the greatest of health. Diabetic pilots face increased challenges, and here are three guidelines to help them manage the disease and their career.

Pilots Need to Understand Medical Emergencies
When a plane takes off, the pilot and crew take responsibility for the lives of the passengers and themselves. A pilot with diabetes faces many potential health issues during flight. The most important is a medical situation where the pilot can lose consciousness if the pilot's blood sugar drops too much. Another impact of diabetes is blurred vision. The eyesight impact is more gradual but sometimes can hit quickly based on diet or other external conditions.
Pilots proactively prepare to handle medical emergencies of all kinds while in the air. Time is of the essence without immediate access to medical personnel on the ground. As for diabetes, pilots prevent their potential diabetic episodes through multiple steps. Diet is the most critical step. Balancing carbohydrate intake is essential. Another essential step is a wearable continuous glucose monitor to track blood sugar fluctuations. A third important step is moving around frequently to increase blood flow and prevent blood clots.

Pilots Need to Have Extensive Training
When a pilot is proactive about diabetes control, the pilot is in a position to handle all of the flight responsibilities. A pilot will spend many hours learning about how the plane responds to different factors. In addition to flight, the pilot is also responsible for being the head of the flight and controlling any problem situation that arises. When a pilot is needed to handle a role outside of the norm, such as an unruly passenger, the pilot cannot be worried about a diabetic episode.

The pilot's training extends to radio communications, steering the plane, weather reports, and monitoring instruments. Beyond these items, the pilot must also anticipate risks, select safer routes as needed, and handle mechanical failure as needed. The many roles can lead to high stress, which leads to stress management as a critical role for the pilot. Stress can be hard on the body and the immune system. As a result, stress can adversely impact diabetes.

Pilots Need to Find a Consistent Routine
All people with diabetes need to find a daily balance with diet, exercise, and medicine. Any changes to routine can be damaging, so most diabetics are creatures of habit. A pilot will face a work schedule with a combination of flying and work while not in the air. A diabetic pilot may be asked to fill in for another pilot, breaking the routine and impacting blood sugars.

Diabetes is labeled as a disability, and pilots with diabetes face an uphill battle to prove they are safe and able to fly a plane. The prevailing perception has been that a diabetic pilot on insulin is more susceptible to an in-flight episode, so diabetic pilots on insulin could only fly private planes. The FAA has made some changes that have made it easier for a diabetic pilot to fly commercial airliners.

Piloting a plane will continue to be an exciting job but will constantly evolve as the world changes. The world is a less patient place, and people are stressed. Taking a flight is seen as an escape from the demands of reality. The pilots accept this responsibility to lead people through the getaway for a couple of hours. Many factors will serve as obstacles, but steps are in place to help control diabetes and lessen its impact on the pilot.

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Tags: health, pilots