Background: While the effects of accelerative forces on the vestibular system have been thoroughly investigated, the effects of hypobaric conditions on the postural system have attracted less attention. The purpose of the study was to investigate if postural control is affected by hypobaric hypoxia.
Hypothesis: Moderate hypobaric hypoxia may reduce postural control.
Methods: Subjective and multiple objective measurements of postural control with open and closed eyes were made in 16 military aircrew standing on a static balance platform before, during, and after exposure to an altitude chamber training profile with a maximum altitude of 25,000 ft.
Results: No subjective dizziness and no clinical unsteadiness were noted. However, significant changes in body sway were found at the balance platform during hypobaric exposure at 18,000, 14,000 and 8000 ft compared with the baseline registrations. The relative increase in sway movements was greater in the eyes open condition compared with the eyes closed condition, and significant for movements in the anteroposterior plane but not in the lateral plane. Most sway parameters returned to pre-exposure values on return to ground level.
Conclusions: Acute hypobaric hypoxia, corresponding to the tested altitudes, influenced postural control primarily in the anteroposterior plane with eyes open. This is in agreement with other studies showing that vision is the first of the special senses to be altered by lack of oxygen.