Flight assessment - hypoxic challenge test

Information for patients

Respiratory and sleep physiology

Please read this information carefully before your appointment.

Your appointment letter will tell you the location, date and time of your appointment.

Why do I need this test?

Your Healthcare professional has referred you for these tests to help them assess whether you are fit to fly or will need to use oxygen during a flight.

Some people with breathing problems may require additional oxygen during air travel. Some people may be advised not to travel by aeroplane, due to the risk to their health. This is because the air pressure in an aircraft is reduced, and the oxygen level is lower during the flight than on the ground (i.e. at sea level). 

What will I be asked to do?

You will be asked to wear a mask to simulate the aircraft cabin environment for 30 minutes. During this, you will be required to sit with a small probe on your finger (wrist oximeter), which measures your oxygen levels. We will also take samples of blood from your earlobe throughout the test to provide more detailed information about your blood oxygen and carbon dioxide levels (capillary blood gas). If needed, you may be given additional oxygen for a further 30 minutes to try and correct your oxygen levels.

How long will the test take?

The test takes between 30 minutes and 2 hours.

How do I prepare for the test?

Please ensure that you remove any nail varnish or gel so that the oximeter can measure properly. You may also need to remove any earrings so that the capillary blood gas can be taken.

Continue to take all medication as normal.

Please contact the department if you have a chest infection and are taking antibiotics prior to your appointment.

Before the test begins, the Physiologist will explain the test to you in detail and answer any questions that you may have.

What should I bring with me?

Please bring any details regarding any planned travel or booked flights. This includes your airline, destination, and date of travel. It may be useful to check what your chosen airline’s oxygen policy is prior to your appointment and prior to booking your flight. If you plan on taking your own or any rented oxygen equipment (e.g. a Portable Oxygen Concentrator) on a flight with you, please bring details of this, or if you have the equipment already, bring it with you to the appointment.

What should I wear for the test?

Wear normal comfortable clothing.

Are there any side effects?

On rare occasions, you may feel some dizziness or shortness of breath during the test.

You may experience slight discomfort from a scratch on your earlobe when a sample of blood is taken to measure your oxygen levels.

What will happen to my test results?

A copy of the results will be sent to your Healthcare Professional. It is your Healthcare Professional who will use the results, along with any other tests and your clinical history to determine your fitness to fly with or without oxygen.

What if I cannot attend?

If you are unable to attend the appointment that has been arranged for you, please contact the department on 01709 424572 as soon as possible so that we can organise an alternative appointment for you, and offer your appointment time to another patient on our waiting list.

What will happen if I do not want this test?

You can choose whether or not to have the tests, but if you do choose not to complete them, important information may be missed which may put you at higher risk during any proposed air travel.

How to contact us

Respiratory and Sleep Physiology 

01709 424572 
Monday to Friday, 8.30am to 4.30pm
Email: rgh-tr.medical.physics@nhs.net

Flight assessment - hypoxic challenge test - patient information leaflet.
Produced by Department of Respiratory and Sleep Physiology, February 2022. 
Revision due: February 2024. Version: 1.0
©The Rotherham NHS Foundation Trust 2022. All rights reserved

Did this information help you?

  • Page last reviewed: 24 January 2023
  • Next review due: 24 January 2024