Pilots may be at increased risk of suffering eye cataracts caused by greater exposure to cosmic radiation during long-haul flights, according to a study published in a US-based ophthalmic magazine.

The August issue of Archives of Opthalmology presents the results of research carried out by the University of Reykjavik involving 445 men, 79 of whom were commercial pilots working for Icelandair. The study concluded that cosmic radiation may be a causative factor in nuclear [common] cataracts among commercial airline pilots.

The British Air Line Pilots Association says it is “not aware that pilots are more prone to cataracts than the general population. The only substantiated research we are aware of at present is that pilots do tend to be more vulnerable to skin melanoma when their duties regularly take them to sunny climates”. It adds that it will be reviewing the research with the UK Cosmic Radiation Advisory Board.

The UK Civil Aviation Authority also says it is not aware of significant numbers of commercial pilots who were temporarily unfit while being treated for cataract, or who are unfit to fly because of cataract. “Experts are of the opinion that the exposure to cosmic radiation – and kind of cosmic radiation – at the altitudes flown is too low to induce cataract,” it says.

The CAA has proposed research into other possible causes of cataract, in view of a European directive on optical radiation and will be carried out in the “near future”.


Source: Flight International