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Flying May Not Be Good For People With Obstructive Sleep Apnea!

Posted Aug 24 2008 2:55pm

People with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) snore and have pauses in breathing during sleep. It occurs when soft tissues in the airways collapse during sleep and temporarily block breathing. The entire process can be repeated hundreds of times a night and it can cause disruption in both breathing and sleep resulting in so-called “sleep fragmentation”. As a result, snorers may feel extremely tire during daytime.



OSA can have profound effects on the cardio-respiratory systems. The blood pressure tends to rise during this period accompanied by changes in the heart rate and rhythm. Research shows that patients with OSA will have a higher chance (1.6 to 2.3 times) of getting a heart attack and stroke than normal patients.



In May 2008, at the American Thoracic Society's 2008 meeting in Toronto, Australian researchers even advise people with OSA to be careful when they are on commercial airline flights. A study conducted by Concord Repatriation General Hospital in Sydney found evidence that patients with OSA may experience higher heart rates and increased bodily need for oxygen during flights compared with healthy people. This would put these people at higher risk of adverse heart events.



The researchers used simulated flight conditions that replicate the oxygen and air pressure levels experienced during commercial flights and compared oxygen levels in the blood and ventilation rates in 10 healthy people and 22 people with severe OSA.



It is normal for the rate of breathing to increase with falling air pressure. Though the breathing intensity of patients with OSA did increase at about the same rate as it does in health people, their physiological stress and demand for oxygen was increased. In other words, the body functions like heart, lung and brain of these patients is subject to greater pressure under cabin conditions.



OSA has become so much common nowadays with the increasing obesity rate, and there are greater numbers of obese passengers on commercial flights. If the results of this study were typical, then half of the patients with OSA would actually require in-flight supplemental oxygen if current guidelines for those with lung disease were strictly followed.
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