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why do you need an oxygen mask at high altitude

Commercial aircraft are pressurised but only to an altitude of 1800-2500 m, and inspired oxygen pressure will be lower than at sea level. This usually has little effect because patients do not exercise during the flight. However, in some patients the reduction in inspired oxygen pressure is critical and additional oxygen may be necessary. Ideally the patient should be assessed in a respiratory clinic before travelling, lung function optimised, and ability to withstand hypoxia tested. However, few units have the low oxygen mixture necessary for this testing and extrapolations have to be made from sea level blood gas concentrations. As a rule of thumb patients should have an arterial oxygen pressure breathing air greater than 9 kPa at sea level to give them an Pa
at 1500 m above 6. 7 kPa. Studies have shown that as long as patients with serious cardiopulmonary disease are assessed before travel and supplementary oxygen used if necessary the incidence of serious side effects is low during flight. The availability and cost of oxygen on commercial aircraft varies. Patients with heart and lung disease should contact their doctors early and arrange specialised assessment if necessary.

Arrangements for oxygen can be made through the airline reservations office or the medical unit for British Airways. The airline will require a medical form filled in by the general practitioner. Oxygen can be supplied via a Hudson mask (patients using venturi masks or nasal cannulae can bring these with them) at flows up to 4 l/min. The higher you go above sea level, the thinner the air gets and less oxygen is available for you to breathe. Mountain climbers know this, and will take with them when they are climbing to altitudes near 10,000 feet, which is where the lack of oxygen starts to get dangerous. When we aren't getting enough oxygen, especially when our bodies are being pushed to the limit (like during mountain or rock climbing), we can become very ill. Fish need a certain amount of oxygen in the water to breathe. In a fish tank, they depend on the air pump to bring in the oxygen, since they are living in a small space and not the open water. If the air pump breaks, the amount of oxygen in the tank depletes quickly, and the fish will become sick and die.

When you are climbing higher and higher up a mountain, the level of oxygen around you is decreasing, and you are like the fish losing oxygen. Unless you do something to make up for that lack of this life-giving gas, you could be in trouble. If you have lived at sea level or in areas that are flat and non-mountainous, you will have a hard time adjusting to much higher altitudes. Altitude Sickness is caused by lack of oxygen in the air and lowered air pressure at higher altitudes. This is even harder for people with certain medical conditions or people who have a lung disease who already have a difficult time breathing. If you make your way up to higher altitudes very slowly, your body will have time to adjust. If you ascend very quickly, you can get Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS). The symptoms of AMS include nausea and vomiting, difficulty sleeping, fatigue, headache, and dizziness. When the condition is severe, you can see a bluish color on the skin (cyanosis), confusion, dizziness and coughing up blood.

If someone with these symptoms isn't treated quickly, AMS can result in death from the fluid that has built up in the lungs. Oxygen concentrators are much more convenient because they don't require oxygen tanks. If you are traveling and visiting high altitudes, you won't want to have to carry a bunch of oxygen tanks with you and worry about continuously changing them out when they are empty. An oxygen concentrator will also save you money in the long run because you won't have to refill any tanks. They work by filtering pure oxygen from the air around it so that you can breathe it in. You will need a prescription from your doctor before ordering your oxygen concentrator. A portable oxygen concentrator is lightweight and can be worn in a pack on your back, so it will be perfect for taking with you while you travel at higher altitudes or do some climbing. Portable oxygen concentrators are made to keep working just as well at 13,000 or more, as they do at sea level. For this reason, they are idea for using at higher altitudes and elevations.

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