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Thread: Sleep Apnea and Third Class Medical

  1. #1
    TBailey's Avatar
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    Sleep Apnea and Third Class Medical

    I'm hoping that there may be either an AME or CFI that might weigh in on this post. I'm 48 and earned my PPL at age 18. I've taken about a 20 year hiatus from flying to raise my family and manage a career. Now that I have both in order, I think, I am ready to re-pursue my first love of aviation. Some of the many changes I've noticed as I've began this process of study has been on the medical side. About ten years ago I participated in a sleep study at my local hospital because I have sleep apnea. I do not use a CPAC machine. I do not seemed to be bothered by my apnea outside of my annoying snoring. Now, I've read about the FAA pressing regulation around sleep apnea and how it will be a significant factor in keeping a medical. I do understand that they have elected to hold off on the testing for apnea, but I'm concerned that since I had tested ten years ago and know that I have apneas that I might not be able to get my medical back. I have now learned about the Sport Pilots license and also learned that if I have never failed a medical I can downgrade and use a drivers license in lieu of the medical. But IF you fail a medical you cannot downgrade to the SPL, you are just grounded, I am not quite sure what to do. It seems like a crap shoot at getting my 3rd class medical and I am tempted to just downgrade now since as of TODAY, I've never failed a medical. Could some of you guys share your knowledge on this, please? Thanks!

  2. #2

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    Quote Originally Posted by TBailey View Post
    I do understand that they have elected to hold off on the testing for apnea, but I'm concerned that since I had tested ten years ago and know that I have apneas that I might not be able to get my medical back. I have now learned about the Sport Pilots license and also learned that if I have never failed a medical I can downgrade and use a drivers license in lieu of the medical. But IF you fail a medical you cannot downgrade to the SPL, you are just grounded, I am not quite sure what to do. It seems like a crap shoot at getting my 3rd class medical and I am tempted to just downgrade now since as of TODAY, I've never failed a medical. Could some of you guys share your knowledge on this, please? Thanks!
    I would go in and see my AME without applying for an FAA medical and see if there is going to be any issues. Then you'll know. You can probably find an AME on the internet that can advise you how to proceed regarding sleep apnea. I don't think getting an medical would be an issue but you can gather some other opinions and make your decision.

  3. #3
    FlyingRon's Avatar
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    As you were aware the more onerous screening has been shelved for a while. This was a result of some very slow-reflex knee jerk over the pilots on the Go! (which I refer to as Wake Up!) airline who both fell asleep during flight (one had undiagnosed sleep apnea). Barring a diagnosis, you shouldn't have a problem getting a regular medical at this point. If you mention that you might have it, they will demand a sleep study/wakefulness test. If you go on CPAP you need to get one with a memory chip that can show that you used it regularly.

    Of course, the biggest thing you can do with regard to Sleep Apnea and general health is to get your weight down. There's definitely a correlation between obesity and sleep apnea in many cases. The issue that is being fought out is where is the probabilistic break point and at what point is the screening counterproductive.

  4. #4
    Jim Heffelfinger's Avatar
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    Sleep apnea has been on the radar (no pun) for a while as there have been a number of accidents in the maritime, trains, subways, light rail, and roads in addition to aviation where sleep/attention have been issues. The DOT/NTSB is all over this right now and I suspect the FAA was reacting to this study/report as well.
    As I shared in another thread on this topic I had one devil of a time getting my merchant marine officerís renewal through medical screening for my apnea Ė which is well controlled by a CPAP. It took months and many visits to my physician for records and reports to be sent in to the National Maritime Center a division of Homeland Security. 6 years ago in my last renewal it was not an issue. Now I have to submit reports every 2 years to keep my license.
    BTW _ I am well below the BMI suggested by the earlier FAA ruling.

  5. #5
    EAA Staff Tom Charpentier's Avatar
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    Sleep apnea has been a "disqualifying condition" (requiring a special issuance for certification) for decades, although recent proposed changes in how the FAA screens for it have gotten the community (including us) understandably concerned. Regardless, if you've already been diagnosed you'll need to show that the condition is well-controlled (or resolved) for certification. That part is unaffected by the recent proposal. In most cases this does unfortunately require CPAP use, but give me a call at 920-426-6124 and I'd be happy to put you in touch with a volunteer AME you can discuss the specifics of your case with.
    Tom Charpentier
    Government Relations Director
    EAA #1082006

  6. #6

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    There is a breathing technique called buteyko that has been reported to help with sleep apnea. The technique aims to make calm and shallow breathing the default way one breathes. Heavy/hard breathing while sleeping can cause a suction effect in the throat that essentially closes off the airway during the inhale/exhale. Buteyko is said to eliminate that suction effect.
    From what I understand, with my pretty limited knowledge of yoga for sleep apnea, is that a deep but slow inhale/exhale is the preferred breathing technique. Iím not sure if this would work as well as buteyko because of the longer duration on the inhale/exhale which to me, would make the suction effect in the throat more likely. Although, if you are inhaling/exhaling slowly then I could see that making the longer duration inhale/exhale a moot point for the throat suctioning up.
    I can see both methods of breathing working to stop the suction effect in the throat caused from faster/harder breathing. I will say though that for me, when I wake up feeling rested, Iím breathing pretty slow and shallow more like the buteyko method. I too am trying alternative methods before giving into the cpap.

  7. #7
    robert l's Avatar
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    Bailey, I have sleep apnea and a couple of other health problems as well, I just got my 3rd class renewed after being away from flying for almost 40 years. It took me a year and a half and LOTS of paper work and Dr. visits. I have been wearing the cpap mask for almost 15 years, I don't like it, but it's necessary so I do it. My results show up on the computer everyday so my Dr. can check them if she wants to and the FAA will probably want to see them too. My plan is to go with BasicMed. So, maybe you should get checked again, (another sleep study) to see how bad it is, then go from there. It can be done. Oh yeah, I had to get a Special Issuance.
    Bob

  8. #8

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    Quote Originally Posted by TBailey View Post
    I'm hoping that there may be either an AME or CFI that might weigh in on this post. I'm 48 and earned my PPL at age 18. I've taken about a 20 year hiatus from flying to raise my family and manage a career. Now that I have both in order, I think, I am ready to re-pursue my first love of aviation. Some of the many changes I've noticed as I've began this process of study has been on the medical side. About ten years ago I participated in a sleep study at my local hospital because I have sleep apnea. I do not use a CPAC machine. I do not seemed to be bothered by my apnea outside of my annoying snoring. Now, I've read about the FAA pressing regulation around sleep apnea and how it will be a significant factor in keeping a medical. I do understand that they have elected to hold off on the testing for apnea, but I'm concerned that since I had tested ten years ago and know that I have apneas that I might not be able to get my medical back. I have now learned about the Sport Pilots license and also learned that if I have never failed a medical I can downgrade and use a drivers license in lieu of the medical. But IF you fail a medical you cannot downgrade to the SPL, you are just grounded, I am not quite sure what to do. It seems like a crap shoot at getting my 3rd class medical and I am tempted to just downgrade now since as of TODAY, I've never failed a medical. Could some of you guys share your knowledge on this, please? Thanks!
    I have sleep apnea and a 3rd class. The important question is, are you being treated for sleep apnea. For me, all I had to do was show my treatment records and a note from a doctor saying that I have told my sleep doctor that I am not tired anymore. My 3rd class was written on the spot, and my AME hinted that I should have requested a 1st class (I did not, because I had not started flight training yet, but looking back he was right). My AME spent more time trying to convince me to meet with an airline recruiter than talking about my sleep apnea. Maintaining it is a bit of a pain because I have to send in data every year showing that I am continuing treatment, but if you go BasicMed after the first year, you will not need to bother with that.
    Looking to buy my first airplane, message me if you have a nice trainer or experimental for sale.

  9. #9

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    How does your wife feel about your need to get involved in GA? :-)

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