Background: Although rare, COPD airplane passengers are at risk of developing hypoxemia
due to lower oxygen pressure in the plane cabin. Hypoxia altitude Simulation Test (HAST) is the method of choice in identifying patients who need in-flight supplemental oxygen. But current guidelines in recommending HAST and supplemental oxygen during air travel in COPD patients vary and have weak evidence. So, this study investigated the utility of GOLD 2015 COPD Classification as basis for recommending HAST to COPD patients who wish to travel by aircraft.
Method: There were 80 COPD patients allocated to groups according to GOLD 2015 based on their COPD Assessment Test (CAT) Scores and % FEV1. HAST was performed in these patients to simulate a cabin altitude of 6700ft.
Results: Among the 80 participants, 24 (30%) needed supplemental oxygen during HAST, 2(15)
%) in group A, 4(12) %) in group B, 4(50%) in group C and 14(52%) in group D. This finding is significant with a p value of 0.003.
Conclusion: The presence of relationship between GOLD 2015 classification and the need for supplemental oxygen emphasizes the importance of the former as a determinant of hypoxemia. According to our results, desaturation and the need for supplemental oxygen is frequent among COPD patients in groups C and D. In conclusion, our study may imply that COPD patients especially those belonging to COPD GOLD 2015 groups C and D have to be advised HAST prior to their flights as they are likely to develop hypoxemia during air travel.