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Predicting hypoxaemia during flights in children with cystic fibrosis
  1. R M Buchdahla,
  2. A Babikerb,
  3. A Busha,
  4. D Cramera
  1. aRoyal Brompton & Harefield NHS Trust, Sydney Street, London SW3 6NP, UK, bDivision of HIV and Infections, MRC Clinical Trials Unit (CTU), London NW1 2DA, UK
  1. Dr R Buchdahl, Hillingdon Hospital, Middlesex UB8 3NN, UKrbuc{at}


BACKGROUND We have previously suggested that it is possible to predict oxygen desaturation during flight in children with cystic fibrosis and chronic lung disease by non-invasive measurement of oxygen saturation following inhalation of 15% oxygen—the pre-flight hypoxic challenge. This study reports on the results of measurements over 5 years.

METHODS The study comprised a pre-flight hypoxic challenge measuring oxygen saturation by finger tip pulse oximetry (Spo 2) during tidal breathing of 15% oxygen in nitrogen and spirometric testing 1 month before the flight followed by Spo 2 measurements during intercontinental flights to and from holidays abroad with children in wake and sleep states.

RESULTS Pre-flight tests were completed on 87 children with cystic fibrosis. Desaturation of <90% occurred in 10 children at some stage during the flight, three of whom received supplementary oxygen. Using a cut off Spo 2 of 90%, the pre-flight hypoxic challenge correctly predicted desaturation in only two of these children. The sensitivity and specificity of the pre-flight hypoxic challenge were 20% and 99%, respectively, compared with 70% and 96% for spirometric tests (using a cut off for forced expiratory volume in 1 second (FEV1) of <50% predicted). Overall, pre-flight spirometric tests were a better predictor of desaturation during flight with the area under the Receiver Operating Characteristic (ROC) curve of 0.89 compared with 0.73 for the hypoxic challenge test.

CONCLUSIONS In this group of subjects pre-flight spirometric testing was a better predictor of desaturation during flight than the pre-flight hypoxic challenge.

  • cystic fibrosis
  • flying
  • travel
  • desaturation
  • children

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