Commuting to high altitude. Recent studies of oxygen enrichment

Adv Exp Med Biol. 1999:474:57-64.


Further studies have been carried out on the potential value of oxygen enrichment of room air for commuters to high altitude. Novel ways of providing oxygen-enriched spaces for working and sleeping are being tested at the California Institute of Technology where a radiotelescope is being designed for an altitude of 5,000 m in north Chile. The modules are containers such as those used on container ships, and they are fitted out in California and then sealed and transported to the telescope site in Chile. The result is a turnkey facility which shows promise for field studies. The oxygen is provided by oxygen concentrators, and different modules are used for sleeping, living, and laboratory quarters. Two extensive experiments on oxygen enrichment were carried out at the University of California White Mountain Research Station, altitude 3,800 m, in the summer of 1998. The first study was devoted to the mechanism for the increase in arterial oxygen saturation on the day after sleeping in an oxygen-enriched atmosphere compared with sleeping in ambient air (5). Possible mechanisms include less fluid accumulation in the lung associated with acute mountain sickness, or a change in the control of ventilation. A double blind study was therefore carried out of the effects of sleeping in oxygen enrichment on both the ventilatory response to hypoxia and to carbon dioxide. In a related study, subjects who had been at an altitude of 3,800 m for two days, and were therefore partially acclimatized, were studied at a simulated altitude of 5,000 both breathing ambient air and 27% oxygen. The studies were done at 3800 m altitude by enriching the atmosphere of the test room with appropriate amounts of nitrogen or oxygen. An extensive series of neuropsychological tests were carried out with the objective of determining which features of CNS function were improved by oxygen enrichment at an altitude of 5,000 m.

MeSH terms

  • Altitude*
  • California
  • Chile
  • Humans
  • Oxygen Inhalation Therapy* / instrumentation
  • Travel*
  • Ventilation