Those Fit to Fly Tests!

….In a follow up to this post: Flying High with Oxygen…..

I need to highlight exactly what those of us with lung diseases (that cause de-saturation), have to go through, in order to be able to be insured to fly and indeed, passed fit enough to fly.

This was me inside the Body Plethysmography Box in 2006 (sorry I haven’t got a more recent photo available!)

There are no side effects to having any of these tests done-well, nothing more than a little nick to your ear lobe to test your blood gases, or your wrist if you choose, a bit of mild claustrophobia if you suffer from it, and a bit of breathlessness if they have you walking the corridors and climbing stairs for the 6 minute walk test.

So I am one of these people who 5 years ago found out that on my regular and routine flights to California I was feeling increasingly more unwell. I used to vomit, feel very spaced out, feel very heavy in my chest and breathing, and really quite light headed and faint by the end of 11 hours in the air.

This is because the air pressure in an aircraft is reduced, and therefore the oxygen level is lower during the flight than on the ground. The Fitness to Fly test assesses how much additional oxygen will be required during flight.

The test takes 60 – 90 minutes. I was required to sit with an oximeter on my finger, plus I  had a few drops of  blood taken from my earlobe to provide more detailed information about my blood oxygen levels.

I was given a low level of oxygen via a mask for 20 minutes to simulate the aircraft cabin environment, and then a higher concentration of oxygen to bring my results back to normal.

When I repeated these tests a couple of weeks ago, I desatted to 72% and now know I require a constant flow rate of 4L to bring me within the normal range. Last trip, in April, I did not feel completely well on 3L so suspected I was going to have it increased.

I found out my results immediately and then we went on to the discussion about my (now historical) overnight oxygen trial.

In my case, the tests were performed inside a body plethysmography box-luckily I am not claustrophobic!

This is just mildly off putting, as I found it hard to breathe against the stoppage of the air shutter. This is however necessary to:

  • Measure the volume of air in the lungs.
  • Diagnose lung disease or assess its severity.
  • Determine whether the airways are obstructed and to what extent.

I also now know that my lungs are currently slightly better than I thought, at around 50% LF, although I am requiring more oxygen during the day, and permanent overnight oxygen as well as increased oxygen to fly.

So I now have more accurate data, a better oxygen prescription and more knowledge into my lung disease. These tests are not a cure, just a more accurate diagnosis of what is going on.

….I still need those darn forms filled in and signed by my Doctor though-and now the POC one too!….

(No travel insurer will insure me to travel unless I have the correct documentation that states my physicians think I am well enough to travel. This is always the case with any severe or chronic condition. My Fit to Fly forms fulfil both the Airline’s request and that of our insurance broker)

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6 Responses to Those Fit to Fly Tests!

  1. MC says:

    You’re not the only one who’s thrown up on flights. When I was younger, it was almost guaranteed that I’d throw up on every flight. I do that much less often now, except for the long transatlantic flights that last 8-9 hours. However, I don’t think it had anything to do with asthma or lungs. My asthma is fairly recent, and I can’t even remember the last time I threw up on a plane…. maybe 3 years ago?

    I have found though that now, my lungs and chest are very sensitive to pressure changes in the airplane cabin during take-off, flight, and landing.
    It is fascinating to me though what it takes for you to get approved to fly, and all the equipment you use. I’ve flown a lot before, but never seen any of the stuff you use.

    • Sorry you get travel sick. It’s so not a nice thing! But when I did get travel sick as a youngster, I would feel very nauseous and basically, sick! This type of desaturation vomiting is very different. No feeling of nausea -so no warning that you’re going to chuck!
      In all my years of flying backwards and forwards between California and London- over 100 times by now, I have never seen another inflight oxygen user. Yet I now have met a guy in my situation who has the same POC set up and has to undergo the same arduous testing. Those tests are necessary if it is looking like you’d be needing home oxygen and not just for flying, actually.
      So one day you may have to do them!
      Hope you stay well and do not get too travel sick 😦

      • mommato2beauties says:

        wait…you throw up with desaturation? REALLY? Let me throw this out to you…when Mariella’s vomiting thing started, she would complain her toe was cold, then she would throw up…we’ve never really been able to pin the vomiting on anything specific. I wonder if she could be desatting. AND it all started about the same time as her asthma did…Might have to ask the doc about that.

  2. Elisheva says:

    That’s pretty cool! By cool I mean interesting and by interesting I mean educational and informative. And it’s amazing that there’s technology out there now that let’s you breathe well while you fly. That’s great! And ohhh yeah. 11 hour flights. I’ve done my fair share of those. That’s how long it takes to get to New York from here. Thank God for inflight movies 🙂

  3. mommato2beauties says:

    Very interesting. I don’t know that we have anything like that in the States…at least not that we’ve encountered…but we don’t fly with O2. I do carry prescriptions for all her equipment and meds, but we’ve never had to do anything with “Fit to Fly”

    We took a trip to London from Boston when I was in high school…I thought I was going to DIE from boredom, of course, I was afraid to fall asleep, lest I drool or something in front of the boy I had a crush on.

    • mymusicallungs says:

      In reply to the sickness and desatting comment re M,-I don’t know if there is any scientific proof to this but I found the two things went together. Or whether it is because being very SOB makes me chuck up (without any warning or feeling of impending nausea) I don’t really know. It is sure easier to breathe when my stomach is emptier! I find being very SOB and having low SATS really affect my appetite.

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