Lung function in adults with cystic fibrosis at altitude: impact on air travel

Eur Respir J. 2005 Apr;25(4):718-24. doi: 10.1183/09031936.05.10087304.


Current guidelines for air travel state that patients with chronic respiratory diseases are required to use oxygen if their in-flight arterial oxygen tensions (Pa,O2) drop below 6.6 kPa. This recommendation may not be strictly applicable to cystic fibrosis patients, who may tolerate lower Pa,O2 for several hours without clinical symptoms. Lung function, symptoms, blood gas levels and signs of pulmonary hypertension were studied in 36 cystic fibrosis patients at altitudes of 530 m and, after 7 h, 2,650 m. A hypoxia inhalation test (inspiratory oxygen fraction 0.15) was performed at low altitude in order to predict high-altitude hypoxaemia. Median Pa,O2 dropped from 9.8 kPa at low altitude to 7.0 kPa at high altitude. Mild exercise at a workload of 30 W further decreased Pa,O2. Two-thirds of all patients exhibited Pa,O2 of <6.6 kPa during exercise and, except for one patient, were asymptomatic. Patients were significantly less obstructed at an altitude of 2,650 m. Low forced expiratory volume in one second at baseline was associated with a low Pa,O2 at altitude. It is concluded that cystic fibrosis patients with baseline arterial oxygen tensions of >8.0 kPa safely tolerate an altitude of 2,650 m for several hours under resting conditions. The risk assessment of low in-flight oxygenation should encompass the whole clinical situation of cystic fibrosis patients, with special attention being paid to the presence of severe airway obstruction.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aerospace Medicine
  • Altitude
  • Cystic Fibrosis / physiopathology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lung / physiopathology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prospective Studies
  • Travel