Researchers test sleep apnea device to prevent hypoxia

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A renowned show and warbird pilot is behind an experiment to see if a device normally used to improve sleep can also keep pilots more alert during flight. Doug Rozendaal is working with doctors and researchers from MercyOne North Iowa Medical Center and the Mayo Clinic to see if using a bilevel positive airway pressure machine will boost blood oxygenation and reduce the risk of hypoxia for those flying near the oxygen supplement limit of 12,500 feet. BiPAPs create positive pressure in the lungs to reduce sleep apnea. “It was actually my idea to try this to see if BiPAP could increase oxygenation at altitude because I fly a lot,” Rozendaal said. told the Mason City Iowa Globe Gazette. “Using oxygen is a pain because your tank is always empty.”

Rozendaal said he normally flies his Baron at 8,000 feet to be on the safe side, but if the BiPAP can increase oxygenation, he would prefer to be higher. “If I can fly 12,000 km, it would allow me to beat the weather, have better winds and save fuel. It just allows a lot more flexibility,” he said. Last week it took off with three passengers, two of whom were masked with wearable BiPAPs. The third was a researcher who tested his cognitive and physiological response at 8,000 and 12,000 feet with the masks. The results will be compared to the reference data obtained from the subjects tested in the field.

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