Flight assessment in patients with respiratory disease: hypoxic challenge testing vs. predictive equations

QJM. 2007 Jun;100(6):361-7. doi: 10.1093/qjmed/hcm033.


Background: Predictive equations have been proposed as a simpler alternative to hypoxic challenge testing (HCT) for determining the risk of in-flight hypoxia.

Aim: To assess agreement between hypoxic challenge testing (HCT) and predictive equations for assessment of in-flight hypoxia.

Design: Retrospective study.

Methods: Patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) (n = 15), interstitial lung disease (ILD) (n = 15) and cystic fibrosis (CF) (n = 15) were studied. Spirometry was recorded prior to hypoxic inhalation and oxygen saturations (SpO2) were recorded before, after and during hypoxic inhalation. Blood gases were analysed before and after hypoxic inhalation and when SpO2 = 85%. An HCT was performed using the Ventimask method. The PaO2 at altitude was estimated for each group using four published predictive equations, which use values of PaO2 (ground) and lung function measurements to predict altitude PaO2. Results were interpreted using the BTS recommendations for prescription of in-flight oxygen post HCT. The Stuart Maxwell test of overall homogeneity was used to assess agreement between HCT results and each of the predictive equations.

Results: Ground PaO2 was significantly greater in patients with CF than either ILD or COPD (p < 0.05). PaO2 in all three groups significantly decreased following HCT. With the exception of equation 3, significantly fewer patients in each group would require in-flight O2 if prescription was based on HCT, compared to predictive equations (p < 0.05).

Discussion: Predictive equations considerably overestimate the need for in-flight O2, compared to HCT.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aerospace Medicine / methods
  • Air Pressure
  • Aircraft
  • Cystic Fibrosis / blood
  • Cystic Fibrosis / physiopathology*
  • Female
  • Forecasting / methods
  • Humans
  • Hypoxia / blood
  • Hypoxia / physiopathology*
  • Lung Diseases, Interstitial / blood
  • Lung Diseases, Interstitial / physiopathology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / blood
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / physiopathology*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Spirometry
  • Travel