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Guest GayleP

Air travel can rob the body of oxygen

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May 05 (Reuters Health) - If flying makes you breathless, there may be good reason. New research suggests that air travel can diminish the blood's oxygen supply to levels that, on the ground, might require treatment.

The study of 84 airline passengers found that when flights were at maximum altitude, more than half of the passengers had "oxygen saturation" levels at or below 94 percent. This means that less than 95 percent of their red blood cells were fully loaded with oxygen, a level at which many doctors would give a person supplemental oxygen, according to the study authors.

All of the passengers, whether on short or long flights, showed declines in their blood oxygen levels, with the average oxygen saturation descending from 97 percent on the ground to 93 percent at cruising altitude, the authors report in the journal Anaesthesia.

The main concern with such oxygen dips is how they could affect passengers with heart or lung disease, said study co-author Dr. Rachel Deyermond of Ulster Hospital in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

For someone with lung disease, a loss of a few percentage points in oxygen saturation could trigger shortness of breath, Deyermond told Reuters Health. A person with heart disease, she said, may suffer chest pain, or have an increased risk of a heart attack or irregular heart rhythm.

It's also possible that significant drops in oxygen levels could contribute to deep vein thrombosis (DVT) -- blood clots in the legs that some passengers develop during long-haul flights.

Besides the effects it can have on the chronically ill, oxygen deprivation can create some less serious problems during and after a flight, including physical and mental fatigue, headache and digestive problems.

According to Deyermond, in-flight symptoms such as breathlessness, chest pain or confusion may signal that a person has dropping oxygen levels. In such cases, passengers with heart or lung disease can ask the crew for oxygen, she said. Healthy people may need only to drink some water, as dehydration compounds the effects of oxygen loss.

Avoiding alcohol and sleeping pills, Deyermond added, may also help.

She suggested that before taking a flight, people with heart or lung disease have their doctors measure their oxygen saturation. If it is already low, she explained, then patients will know it could drop to problematic levels, and they could tell the airline they will need oxygen during the flight.

SOURCE: Anaesthesia, May 2005.

Publish Date: May 05, 2005

? Reuters Limited. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution of Reuters content, including by framing or similar means, is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Reuters. Reuters shall not be liable for any errors or delays in the content, or for any actions taken in reliance thereon.

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Hi Gayle;

I have had MVP/dysautonomia for almost 10 years but was formally diagnosed last December. My symptoms have been severe and I also have asthma. Two years ago I took a trip to Europe. We flew from Detroit to London then flew on to Hungary. It was a 12 hour trip total with 1 layover. I had absolutely no problems with symptoms of dysautonomia or asthma. I was so excited about going that I was totally relaxed and enjoyed the flight. I didn't have any problems with the return flight be either.

I know that with long flights they encourage you to get up and walk every so often to alleviate the possibility of DVT. But, I can't see how someone can sit for that long without getting up to go to the bathroom anyway.

As for the oxygen, the cabin is pressurized and air is constantly circulating. It feels like a fan is always on. The only thing that I physically noticed was my ears popping. Chewing gun and yawning helps that.

I have more problems getting to the top of Pikes Peak in Colorado. That is my goal, to get up there. The air is very thin up there. I have tried twice. The last time was last July but I could only make it to 13000 feet. I started feeling panicy, dizzy and a little short of breath. I plan to keep trying until I get to the top and stand there and laugh at my dysautonomia. So, I don't know if I would be too concerned. If you plan to fly and are concerned just ask your doctor about it.

Take care, KathyP :)

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Guest GayleP

I was just posting this as a FYI. I usually try not to fly personally mainly because I am afraid to. Bad fear of flying although I used to fly all the time.

Good luck with Pikes Peak. I live in Colorado and did a 14,er before I got sick. It was awesome. There is no way I could do one now. I'm lucky if I can take a 20 minute walk.

I'm really impressed that you can hike. 13,000 ft is great. You should be proud of yourself for that. A lot healthy people have a hard time climbing that high. Of all the things I miss I'd have to say hiking is on top of my list.

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missed my sister's wedding because i was at a point that i couldn't fly (international flight). extreme shortness of breath, pulse and blood pressure all over the place, sugar problems. Doc also felt that it is not wise when in"crisis".

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Hello again Gayle;

Well thanks anyway for the FYI. I just felt like sharing. I'm sorry if I led you to believe that I hiked up. Oh no, I couldn't do over a 20 minute walk myself right now with my dysautonomia. I was talking about taking a car up. I live in Ohio. Around here it is totally flat so when I go to the mountains any difference in altitude changes my pulse, BP and breathing.

Getting to the top is my goal whether I get there by car or train. I don't think I have ever, in my life, been able to hike or climb that high. Sorry for the confusion. Colorado is my favorite state to visit. It is beautiful there.

KathyP B)

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Guest GayleP
Hello again Gayle;

Well thanks anyway for the FYI.  I just felt like sharing.  I'm sorry if I led you to believe that I hiked up.  Oh no, I couldn't do over a 20 minute walk myself right now with my dysautonomia.  I was talking about taking a car up.  I live in Ohio.  Around here it is totally flat so when I go to the mountains any difference in altitude changes my pulse, BP and breathing. 

Getting to the top is my goal whether I get there by car or train.  I don't think I have ever, in my life, been able to hike or climb that high.  Sorry for the confusion.  Colorado is my favorite state to visit.  It is beautiful there.

KathyP  :huh:

Kathy,

Thanks for sharing. LOL. I must say I was getting pretty envious of you there being able to hike up Pikes peak. :D I hear what you are saying about altitude even in a car. We can drive into the mountains but we can't vacation there anymore as far as anyplace over 8,000ft. And I haven't been walking around outdside of the car above treeline since I got sick but I think it would be difficult.

We are driving to Califonia tomorrow and have to go over the continental divide. I think I'll be OK beause we won't be at elevation for too long.

I agree, Colorado is very beautiful.

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Hi Gayle;

I wish I was able to hike up Pikes Peak. LOL also!! Only in my dreams. I felt bad, thinking that I may have made it sound like I did. I would be so happy if I could get to the top by car. I think the reason I get so panicy and symptomatic is because of the steep inclines and no guard rails close to the top.

Good luck with your drive to California!!! Last July, while out west, my family and I went across the Continental Divide on our way to Washington State and then traveled all through the mountains to Colorado. We were at very high altitudes in Wyoming (Yellowstone). I didn't have any problems going through the mountains there.

If you do get shortness of breath or symptomatic, and what helped me, roll up the windows, recline back a little, close your eyes and turn the air conditioning on. Have the air blowing on you and do deep breathing. I found closing my eyes hard to do because the sights were so beautiful.

Take care, KathyP :huh:

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Hi

Air travel can be dehydrating which messes up POTS. I drink even more water than usual when I fly. I also move out of my seat at least every 45 minutes and squat to the ground then stand up about 10 times in a row while holding onto at seat at the back of the plane. I know I must get looks but I don't really care, as long as I don't feel presyncopal.

I get a wheelchair to transport me to my connecting flight. I sometimes lie down on the floor during the layover.

A scopalamine patch controls my air sickness and gives my POTS an extra temporary boost too.

I allow a day off just to lie in the bed the day that I return home, and maybe the next day too.

Karyn

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