Pulse oximeters are used by pilots to prevent a condition called Hypoxia. Hypoxia is a serious medical condition that occurs when certain parts of the body do not get the required oxygen. This results in serious complications and as such, hypoxia needs constant careful monitoring and diagnosis. The lack of oxygen poses serious medical risks and the people most prone to this condition are pilots operating at reduced atmospheric pressure in high altitudes.

Altitude Hypoxia

As one goes into higher altitudes, oxygen deficiency is experienced. Reduced atmospheric pressures mean lesser number of oxygen molecules in the volume of air we breathe. This shortage leads to altitude hypoxia. The body copes by increasing the amount of air you breathe in and increasing your heart rate so that the oxygen can be delivered faster. There is a limit for this, however. Pilots flying in unpressurized airplanes face the greatest danger especially in altitudes between 8,000 and 12,000 feet. Some effects may not be immediately visible but pilots have experienced residual effects later on, also known as “hypoxia hangover”.

Pulse Oximetry

Pulse oximeter is a small device that has been used for years by pilots to measure their blood oxy-hemoglobin saturation levels. Such readings can recognize whether hypoxia symptoms have set in and if supplemental oxygen needs to be taken. Besides displaying pulse rate, the device works by snapping onto the finger and measuring saturation by shining infrared light through the finger tissue.

It is advised to always consider oxygen for flights going above 8,000 feet during day and 5,000 feet at night. If oxygen is required, place the face mask and start the oxygen airflow. Check the reading every 15 minutes to determine whether the saturation levels are normal. Keep doing this until you get to normal and the readings are at the desired level.

At night or during stressful situations like descent or approach, increase supplemental oxygen supply till saturation level reaches 94 – 95 percent. You could also remain on oxygen supply till you hit ground to prevent any unseen complications.

Check the oxygen supply often as tank depletion, disconnection or unknown damages are possible. And, always keep in mind, whenever you face any uneasiness in altitude, immediately turn on the oxygen. Do not shut it down immediately as soon as you start feeling better. If you don’t feel any better even after the oxygen intake, land as soon as possible. The situation could get much worse through carbon monoxide poisoning.

It is said that Hypoxia is a silent killer that leaves no trace. Many pilots choose to ignore this fact when flying without oxygen. The effects are not only detrimental but can be deadly. Oximeters are the preferred mechanism for keeping hypoxia in check because of its ability to accurately measure oxygen levels at all altitudes. They are also durable and work in differing atmospheric pressures and weathers. With a pulse oximeter, the pilots can fly safely with the assurance that they can monitor their oxygen levels at all times and prevent onset of hypoxia.