The first time I heard about hypoxia was at Skydiving Perris. We were in a famous belly event called P3. That time we were jumping with Dan BC, Kick Verner, Tom Jenkins, and another 25 people. To make that formation easier accomplished, we were exiting the airplanes above 16.000 feet. We did a few jumps, and for every jump, we had one person flying around. Tom Jenkins started to pay attention to all jumpers, and the one that got lost a few times were taking his oxygen off and moving a lot during the climb up.

Friday Freakout: Skydiver Passes Out From Hypoxia In Freefall

When we landed, Tom Jenkins mentioned during the debriefing #hypoxia and started to explain what it is. I don’t remember much about what he said; it was long ago. However, after that, I researched and talked with some people from the army who helped me find answers and have some new questions.

What are Hypoxia and its types?

Hypoxia is a condition in which the tissues are starved of oxygen. We have 4 types of hypoxia in medicine: 

  • Hypoxemic, where the oxygen pressure in the blood going to the tissues is too low to saturate hemoglobin.
  • Anemic, where the blood capacity of carrying oxygen is too low.
  • Stagnant, where the blood is or may be is standard, but the blood flow to the tissues is decreased or unevenly distributed.
  • Histotoxic, where tissue cells are poisoned and unable to use the oxygen properly.

Hypoxemic

The first type of hypoxia we saw above is hypoxemic. Hypoxemic happens for one of two reasons: a decrease in breathable oxygen (pilots, skydivers, mountain climbers, and people living at high altitudes) due to reduced barometric pressure, which creates altitude sickness or cardiopulmonary failure in which the lungs are unable to transfer oxygen from the alveoli to the blood efficiently.

hypoxia chart

How to reduce hypoxia effects while skydiving?

That’s the million dollars question. The answer is quite simple:

  • Keep oxygen in your body: oxygen is mandatory when jumping from altitudes above 14.000 feet. You will receive a small plug, cannula, or mask. Keep that in your nose or mouth and breath the oxygen. That is enough for most people to avoid being hypoxic during the airplane ride to full altitude.
  • Move less: check your gear; do your procedures, but avoid doing too many movements. It’s crucial to be calm and relaxed, and too many movements can increase your body’s oxygen needs.
  • Drink and eat properly: it’s pretty amusing to mention that, but we can get hypoxic easier if we stop fueling our body. Make sure you are on a balanced diet and drinking plenty of water during the day.

What are the symptoms of hypoxic?

Although hypoxic’s symptoms can vary from person to person, there are the most common symptoms, which include confusion, cough, fast heart rate, rapid breathing, shortness of breath, slow heart rate, sweating, wheezing, and changes in your skin color (ranging from blue to cherry red).

Altitude Chamber

A hypobaric chamber or altitude chamber is used during aerospace training to simulate the effects of high altitude on the human body, especially hypoxia (low oxygen) and hypobaria (low ambient air pressure).

This training enables the aircrews to experience the effects of altitude exposure in a safe and controlled environment, providing the student with the training necessary for global deployment.

U.S. Army Medical Center of Excellence

The American and Brazilian armies mentioned the altitude chamber when we spoke about hypoxia. They believe it is a valuable tool that people more susceptible to hypoxia can use to understand their symptoms. The Brazilian army said that everyone has different ways of feeling hypoxic. When they do their training in the altitude chamber, they realize what happens with them in a controlled environment. That can prevent one from being hypoxic and being unaware of it.

How a altitude chamber test looks like?

The effects of hypoxia are varied by individual, but generally, your cognitive function greatly diminishes and you become euphoric and unable to accomplish simple tasks or follow basic instructions. 

Keep coming back

Hypoxia is a dangerous condition. When our body doesn’t have enough oxygen, our brain, liver, and other organs can be damaged. Also, we are putting ourselves and our friends in danger. Symptoms start very quickly and are barely noticeable if we are not paying attention.

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