Normobaric hypoxia inhalation test vs. response to airline flight in healthy passengers

Paul T. Kelly*, Maureen P. Swanney, Chris Frampton, Leigh M. Seccombe, Matthew J. Peters, Lutz E. Beckert

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

36 Citations (Scopus)


Introduction: There is little data available to determine the normal response to normobaric hypoxia inhalation testing (NHIT) and air travel. Quantifying a healthy response may assist in the evaluation of passengers considered at risk for air travel. The aims of this study were: 1) to quantify the degree of desaturation in healthy subjects during a NHIT and air travel; and 2) assess the validity of the NHIT when compared with actual in-flight responses. Methods: There were 15 healthy adults (age 23-57; 10 women) who volunteered for this study. Preflight tests included lung function, arterial blood gas, pulse oximetry (SpO2), and NHIT (inspired oxygen 15%). SpO2 and cabin pressure were measured continuously on each subject during a commercial air flight (mean cabin altitude 2178 m; range 1719-2426 m). In-flight oxygenation was compared with the preflight NHIT. Results: Lung function testing results were normal. There was significant desaturation (SpO2) during the NHIT (pre: 98 ± 2%; post: 92 ± 2%) and at cruising altitude (pre: 97 ± 1%; cruise: 92 ± 2%). There was no difference between the final NHIT SpO2 and the mean in-flight SpO2. There was a significant difference between the lowest in-flight SpO2 (88 ± 2%) vs. the lowest NHIT SpO2 (90 ± 2%). Discussion: Oxygen saturation decreases significantly during air travel in normal individuals. In this group of healthy passengers the NHIT approximates some, but not all, aspects of in-flight oxygenation. These results can be used to describe a normal response to the NHIT and air-travel.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1143-1147
Number of pages5
JournalAviation Space and Environmental Medicine
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2006
Externally publishedYes


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