Aviation medical

November 12, 2012

Aviation medical

The discipline of Aviation medical practice is concerned with not the inconsiderable effects of flight and space travel on both the physical and psychological well being of humans. The extreme risks and physical demands faced by pilots and astronauts mean that they require specialist aviation medical care to protect both themselves and the wider community.

Changes in both gravity and oxygen levels are situations which are faced regularly by those who fly whether that flight is in regular aircraft or a spaceship. Many of these professionals also face motion sickness, loss of bone density and even cardiac problems.

  • Changes in oxygen levels – also known as pressure changes. High altitude brings with it lower levels of oxygen which can then cause dizziness, mental confusion and shortness of breath – all the result of hypoxia or lack of oxygen to the brain. Obviously for this to affect a pilot or astronaut could have very serious consequences, it is important then that they have access to a pressurised cabin or a supply of oxygen which will immediately relieve these symptoms. Aviation medical specialists will also advise on how to deal with other symptoms of rapid increases and decreases in altitude – including ear pain caused by unequal pressure in the inner ear.

  • Effect of gravity

    - high performance pilots may experience health problems as a result of rapid acceleration and high speed – these procedures can cause extreme gravity which may then pull blood away from the upper body and into the lower body resulting in loss of consciousness of the development of tunnel vision. The

    aviation medical

    practitioner will ensure the provision of special flight suits which are designed to prevent the ‘pooling’ of blood in the lower body.

  • Motion sickness the inner ear of the human is sensitive to gravity and also affects our sense of spatial awareness. On arrival in space changes may occur in the fluid of the inner ear causing nausea, vertigo and general disorientation – most astronauts will experience this both in space and on returning to earth. The aviation medical practitioner will prescribe motion sickness medication to prevent this occurring.

  • Radiation a little known threat to astronauts but nevertheless considered to be very serious since radiation is a known carcinogenic and may also cause immune system weakness – aviation medical advice would be to take supplements such as omega 3 which has been shown to reduce DNA damage.

  • Bone and muscle loss – lack of gravity, or zero gravity means there will be no resistance when astronauts are doing normal activities – this means these activities will no longer be ‘weight bearing’ – subsequently loss of bone and muscle strength is a very real possibility in space. The resident aviation medical professional will probably prescribe dietary supplements in order to limit muscle atrophy and set out a programme of exercise to be followed for the duration of the space travel – the use of an exercise bike or resistance bands is usual.

  • Cardiovascular issues are a cause for concern particularly on re-entry. Astronauts are instructed to increase both their fluid and salt intake in order to avoid a possible drop in blood pressure when they re-enter earth’s atmosphere.

  • Preventative care a large part of an aviation medical practitioners remit is to ensure that pilots and astronauts are in the peak of medical health – this means education ensuring healthy diets, plenty of exercise and routine health checks for conditions such as vision or hearing changes as well as heart monitoring and stress tests.


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