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Ready For Takeoff - Turn Your Aviation Passion Into A Career

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Jul 4, 2019


There are four types of Hypoxia:
Hypoxia means “reduced oxygen” or “not enough oxygen.”
Although any tissue will die if deprived of oxygen long
enough, the greatest concern regarding hypoxia during
flight is lack of oxygen to the brain, since it is particularly
vulnerable to oxygen deprivation. Any reduction in mental
function while flying can result in life-threatening errors.
Hypoxia can be caused by several factors, including an
insufficient supply of oxygen, inadequate transportation of
oxygen, or the inability of the body tissues to use oxygen.
The forms of hypoxia are based on their causes:
• Hypoxic hypoxia
• Hypemic hypoxia
• Stagnant hypoxia
• Histotoxic hypoxia
Hypoxic Hypoxia
Hypoxic hypoxia is a result of insufficient oxygen available
to the body as a whole. A blocked airway and drowning
are obvious examples of how the lungs can be deprived of
oxygen, but the reduction in partial pressure of oxygen at high
altitude is an appropriate example for pilots. Although the
percentage of oxygen in the atmosphere is constant, its partial
pressure decreases proportionately as atmospheric pressure
decreases. As an aircraft ascends during flight, the percentage
of each gas in the atmosphere remains the same, but there are
fewer molecules available at the pressure required for them
to pass between the membranes in the respiratory system.
This decrease in number of oxygen molecules at sufficient
pressure can lead to hypoxic hypoxia.

Hypemic Hypoxia
Hypemic hypoxia occurs when the blood is not able to take
up and transport a sufficient amount of oxygen to the cells
in the body. Hypemic means “not enough blood.” This type
of hypoxia is a result of oxygen deficiency in the blood,
rather than a lack of inhaled oxygen, and can be caused by
a variety of factors. It may be due to reduced blood volume
(from severe bleeding), or it may result from certain blood
diseases, such as anemia. More often, hypemic hypoxia
occurs because hemoglobin, the actual blood molecule that
transports oxygen, is chemically unable to bind oxygen
molecules. The most common form of hypemic hypoxia is
CO poisoning. This is explained in greater detail later in this
chapter. Hypemic hypoxia can also be caused by the loss
of blood due to blood donation. Blood volume can require
several weeks to return to normal following a donation.
Although the effects of the blood loss are slight at ground
level, there are risks when flying during this time.

Stagnant Hypoxia
Stagnant means “not flowing,” and stagnant hypoxia or
ischemia results when the oxygen-rich blood in the lungs
is not moving, for one reason or another, to the tissues that need it. An arm or leg “going to sleep” because the blood
flow has accidentally been shut off is one form of stagnant
hypoxia. This kind of hypoxia can also result from shock,
the heart failing to pump blood effectively, or a constricted
artery. During flight, stagnant hypoxia can occur with
excessive acceleration of gravity (Gs). Cold temperatures
can also reduce circulation and decrease the blood supplied
to extremities.

Histotoxic Hypoxia
The inability of the cells to effectively use oxygen is defined
as histotoxic hypoxia. “Histo” refers to tissues or cells, and
“toxic” means poisonous. In this case, enough oxygen is being
transported to the cells that need it, but they are unable to make
use of it. This impairment of cellular respiration can be caused
by alcohol and other drugs, such as narcotics and poisons.
Research has shown that drinking one ounce of alcohol can
equate to an additional 2,000 feet of physiological altitude.

Symptoms of Hypoxia
High-altitude flying can place a pilot in danger of becoming
hypoxic. Oxygen starvation causes the brain and other vital
organs to become impaired. The first symptoms of hypoxia
can include euphoria and a carefree feeling. With increased
oxygen starvation, the extremities become less responsive and
flying becomes less coordinated. The symptoms of hypoxia
vary with the individual, but common symptoms include:
• Cyanosis (blue fingernails and lips)
• Headache
• Decreased response to stimuli and increased reaction
time
• Impaired judgment
• Euphoria
• Visual impairment
• Drowsiness
• Lightheaded or dizzy sensation
• Tingling in fingers and toes
• Numbness
As hypoxia worsens, the field of vision begins to narrow and
instrument interpretation can become difficult. Even with all
these symptoms, the effects of hypoxia can cause a pilot to
have a false sense of security and be deceived into believing
everything is normal.

Treatment of Hypoxia
Treatment for hypoxia includes flying at lower altitudes and/
or using supplemental oxygen. All pilots are susceptible
to the effects of oxygen starvation, regardless of physical
endurance or acclimatization. When flying at high altitudes,
it is paramount that oxygen be used to avoid the effects of
hypoxia. The term “time of useful consciousness” describes
the maximum time the pilot has to make rational, life-saving
decisions and carry them out at a given altitude without
supplemental oxygen. As altitude increases above 10,000
feet, the symptoms of hypoxia increase in severity, and the
time of useful consciousness rapidly decreases. [Figure 17-1]
Since symptoms of hypoxia can be different for each
individual, the ability to recognize hypoxia can be greatly
improved by experiencing and witnessing the effects of it
during an altitude chamber “flight.” The Federal Aviation
Administration (FAA) provides this opportunity through
aviation physiology training, which is conducted at the FAA
CAMI in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and at many military
facilities across the United States. For information about the
FAA’s one-day physiological training course with altitude
chamber and vertigo demonstrations, visit the FAA website
at www.faa.gov.

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