Air Force

Hypoxia biomarkers

Early detection of inadequate oxygen supply via analysis of seven exhaled breath compounds

Medical & Biotechnology

At present, pilots and other US Air Force flight personnel are trained to recognize hypoxic symptoms at onset and react according to their self-assessed state. However, modern jet aircraft may have bursts of low-oxygen or sudden loss of cabin pressure at high altitude, which may prevent a pilot from noticing detrimental conditions before a loss of consciousness. Symptoms of hypoxia onset may include light-headedness, fatigue, numbness, and nausea. In extreme hypoxia, symptoms may include ataxia, hallucinations, headaches, papilledema, breathlessness, tachycardia, and pulmonary hypertension. At this point, operational skills severely diminish. Such incidents pose an immediate threat to pilot, aircraft, and civilians on the ground. Other than self-recognition or identification by a colleague trained to recognize symptoms (and looking for them) there are inadequate tools to identify the onset of hypoxia.

Air Force researchers have identified six volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that decline in response to hypoxic respiratory stress. They further determined isoprene as increasing after hypoxic exposure. These indicators enable real-time monitoring of pilots or other at-risk people for the initial onset of hypoxia. They represent the canary in the coal mine for this condition which can have devastating outcomes.

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