Flying can be a considerable worry for people with respiratory problems. Whilst mobility issues can be dealt with fairly easily through the pre-ordering of a cart/wheelchair at the airport, the question of oxygen requirements during a flight can be trickier to address.
Normally we breathe 21% oxygen from the air, however this decreases at higher altitudes. In an aeroplane the air is pressurised to ensure we have enough oxygen, however above 8000 feet the amount of oxygen falls to around 15%. Whilst for most people this is perfectly adequate to enable us to breathe comfortably those with an underlying respiratory disease such as emphysema or Lung Fibrosis, may find they require additional oxygen.
The most accurate way to determine oxygen requirements during a flight is a hypoxic altitude test where the individual breathes 15% oxygen for 20 minutes and oxygen levels are monitored. However, these tests are not readily available in the community or GP setting. Another reliable and much simpler method is to ask the individual to perform a timed walking test (usually 6 minutes) whilst monitoring oxygen levels with a non-invasive clip called a pulse oximeter. The level of desaturation (or fall in oxygen blood levels) will tell the physiotherapist whether oxygen should be worn.
The person wanting to fly will then be issued with a Fitness to Fly certificate and instructions on how to obtain oxygen for the flight – if indeed it turns out they need it – as many people do not.
We provide this service at Atlantic Clinic Nueva Andalucia, so if in doubt about fitness to fly please call me to arrange a test for you. Don´t let your lung disease put you off having a good time!