Jan 012012
Air Travel for Patients with Lung Disease (BTS Recommendations)

Some interesting facts, figures, and recommendations on air travel for those with chronic lung disease, thanks to Ahmedzai et al who produced this 32 page document for the British Thoracic Society:

  • At 8,000 feet in a commercial aircraft, you're breathing 15% O2, and normal people's SpO2 falls to 89-94% at rest.
  • Neither FEV1 nor resting oxygen saturation predict whether someone will become hypoxemic or have health problems during air travel.

There's really no good evidence to form recommendations for patients, so common sense prevails: Consider whether they've flown before, any progression of their disease, the time since their last exacerbation, etc. Optimize usual care (bronchodilators, etc).

Those already on supplemental oxygen need to work out logistics with the airport(s) and airline(s), as they'll be using the airline's oxygen on the flight and their own on the ground. Those already requiring 4 L/min oxygen on the ground cannot fly.

The hypoxia altitude simulation test (HAST) has been proposed as a more feasible alternative to hypobaric testing. The interpretation, recommendations, and benefits of this are not really known, but those who fail qualify for 2 L/min on the flight.

Ahmedzai et al. Managing passengers with stable respiratory disease planning air travel: British Thoracic Society recommendations. Thorax 2011;66:i1-i30 

(More 2012 Topic Updates)

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Air travel for patients with lung disease: Recommendations (Thorax BTS Guideline, Review)