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Medications in Flying

Use of Benzodiazepines (and related medications) for flying

Flight anxiety does not come under the remit of General Medical Services as defined in the GP contract and so we are not obliged to prescribe for this.  

Patients sometimes ask our doctors to prescribe diazepam or 'Valium' for fear of flying or assist with sleep during flights. Diazepam is a benzodiazepine, a form of sedative, which means it makes you sleepy and more relaxed. There are a number of very good reasons why prescribing this drug is not recommended for fear of flying.

  • Benzodiazepines can affect your  memory, co-ordination, concentration and reaction times, which can be dangerous while travelling in the event of an emergency. 
  • They are also addictive, and are a widely used drug of abuse since they first came on the market. In the UK Diazepam is classed as a Controlled Drug, but it is also illegal in a number of countries. Patients taking diazepam abroad may find themselves in violation of local drug laws. 
  • Diazepam will stay in your system for quite a while. If your job requires you to submit to random drug testing you may fail this having taken diazepam, even briefly.
  • Diazepam does not always have a sedative effect; it may increase agitation and aggression in some patients. This would put other passengers at risk. 
  • Diazepam puts you at an increased  risk of developing a blood clot (Deep Vein Thrombosis - DVT) in the leg or even the lungs. Blood clots are very dangerous and can prove fatal; they are particularly associated with long haul flights.
  • They can cause your breathing rate to slow down, which can be dangerous as blood oxygen levels are already reduced at high altitude.
  • According to the prescribing guidelines doctors follow (British National Formulary) diazepam is not allowed for treatment of fear or phobia.  Your doctor would be taking a significant legal risk by prescribing against these guidelines. 

As with all travel arrangements, it is important to declare all medical conditions and medications you take to your travel insurer. If not, there is a risk of nullifying any insurance policy you may have.

Patients who still wish to take benzodiazepines for flight anxiety may consult with a private GP or travel clinic, who may also decline to prescribe it. Other helpful resources for flight anxiety are linked below:

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