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Skifield oxygen research helps air travellers with respiratory problems

Trees flowering on campus

Friday 18 September 2009 3:10pm

Mt Hutt skier

University of Otago, Christchurch researcher
Dr Rachel Wiseman, wires up Dan Cochrane to check oxygen levels at Mt Hutt Ski Area.

Researchers at the University of Otago, Christchurch have just embarked on a unique project investigating oxygen levels in skiers at the Mt Hutt Ski Area.

The research team will be on the skifield over coming weekends gathering data, and are hoping people will be interested in taking part in the study.

They have chosen to do the research at Mt Hutt because the altitude of the ski area mirrors the same barometric pressure and available oxygen as the cabin of a plane flying at 30,000 feet.

"This means that measurements we take at Mt Hutt Ski Area will have great relevance to the development of more accurate guidelines for safe use of oxygen by patients with respiratory problems while they're flying," says researcher Dr Rachel Wiseman.

The ski area research expects to determine the oxygen uptake of healthy people, so that they can compare this to oxygen levels in people with respiratory diseases like asthma or COPD. This will have an impact when estimating the effect of these respiratory diseases during flight.

"The problem at present is that although extra oxygen bottles are available on flights it's not exactly clear at what level of oxygen in the blood people with respiratory illnesses should be supplied with extra oxygen," she says.

"Essentially a lot of guesswork is involved, and our research aims to make this decision scientifically more accurate."

Airlines normally charge for extra oxygen; anywhere between $100 and $800 per leg on an international flight, and it has to be booked beforehand.

"We want to measure oxygen levels while at rest, as when sitting in a plane, and also while exercising, when people get up from their seats from time to time," says a senior member of the research team, respiratory physician, Dr Lutz Beckert.

"Exercise for some people with respiratory problems on a flight can make them seriously short of oxygen, or hypoxic, as though they are on Mt Everest. And yet passengers are also advised to get up every hour or so to avoid DVT or deep vein thrombosis; but you cannot easily carry the oxygen bottle."

The researchers will carry out several measurements on the mountain over coming weeks; an oxygen level measurement on 200 people at rest, and then while they are skiing or snowboarding.

These tests will involve the placement of a device on the forehead which measures and records oxygen levels while skiing or snowboarding.

Those interested in participating can sign up in the Mount Hutt café where another member of the research team, Kevin McNamara will be based.

Dr Wiseman will also be carrying out more detailed tests with another 20 volunteers involving exercise bikes at sea level and at the top of the Mt Hutt chairlift.

For further information contact

Dr Rachel Wiseman
University of Otago, Christchurch
Tel 03 364 0640, ask for beep 8661 (Friday)
Mob 021 175 3289 (Saturday/Sunday Mt Hutt)


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