Flying, particularly long haul can be a considerable worry for people with respiratory problems. Whilst mobility issues can be dealt with fairly easily through pre-ordering of a cart and/or 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, but at higher altitudes (> 8000 feet) the amount of oxygen falls to around 15%. Whilst for most people this is still sufficient to breathe comfortably, those with an underlying respiratory disease such as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease or Fibrosis, may find they require additional oxygen. If you already use oxygen you will of course need it when flying. But if you manage well without oxygen on the ground it can be harder to know how your body will respond in the air.

Here at Atlantic Clinic we provide a reliable and accurate method of assessing your oxygen needs during a flight. We simply ask you to perform a timed walking test (usually 6 minutes) whilst monitoring heart rate and oxygen levels with a non-invasive clip called a pulse oximeter. The level of desaturation (or fall in blood oxygen) will tell the physiotherapist whether oxygen should be worn or not.

The person wanting to fly will then be provided with a Fitness to Fly certificate and instructions on how to obtain oxygen for the flight, if indeed it turns out they need it.


Dr Rachel Garrod


Consultant Physiotherapist

Categories: Uncategorised
Post by: Atlantic Clinic on 02 Sep 2019