Introduction Pre-COVID-19, the total number of passengers traveling by commercial airlines rose to 4.3 billion, with Europe amounting to a 7.2% increase. The risks of respiratory compromised patients developing hypoxaemia during flight is well documented. Assessment of these patients is time consuming and often requires specialised equipment. Furthermore, the majority of evidence is based on research into patients with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). The aim of this study is to investigate potential predictive biomarkers relating to the development of hypoxaemia during flight in patients with Motor Neurone Disease (MND).
Methods 118 MND patients referred into a fitness to fly service (n=118) completed baseline lung function and a Hypoxic Challenge Test (HCT) as part of a risk stratification for planned air travel (77 male). Data from patients requiring in-flight oxygen was compared to patients who did not, in accordance with the British Thoracic Society recommendations 2011: Managing passengers with stable respiratory disease planning air travel. Statistical analysis was performed using one-way ANOVA, Kruskal-Wallis, and Chi-Squared tests, as appropriate.
Results There was no significant difference between the pass (n=94) and fail (n=24) groups for age, gender, smoking history or BMI. There was a significant difference for all spirometry data (FEV1, FVC and FEV1/FVC ratio – absolute, percent predicted and standardised residuals). Moreover, the resting blood gases (FiO221%) data showed significant difference for all parameters with the exception of pH (<0.001). The Regression analysis showed limited predictive value of spirometry and/or resting blood gas data with the exception of PaCO2 and base excess (BE).
Conclusions The predictive value of spirometic paraments and resting blood gases are limited in assessing hypoxaemia during commercial flight in MND patients, with the exception of parameters relating to respiratory failure. Despite the significant difference between the two groups, routine physiological data was limited in the predictive regression equations. We recommend that the safest approach in managing this group of patients is to perform an HCT in all patients intending to use air travel until more evidence-based data is available.
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