What Is Acute Hypoxia?

Acute hypoxia may occur among helicopter pilots due to dramatic changes in air pressure.
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  • Written By: K.C. Bruning
  • Edited By: John Allen
  • Last Modified Date: 19 September 2014
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Acute hypoxia is a tissue level rapid decrease in oxygen supply. It is commonly caused by high altitudes, whether on land or in the air. Some of the common symptoms of the condition include lethargy, poor coordination, and air hunger. In essence, the body begins to shut down from lack of oxygen nourishment.

It can be difficult to diagnose acute hypoxia because the signs and symptoms are not unique to the condition and can vary widely. For this reason, many people who are expected to be in environments conducive to the condition, such as pilots, are trained to recognize the warning signs of the condition. Some people also use special equipment to monitor breathing and pulse so that if an attack does start to come on there is some chance of holding it back or at least receiving faster treatment.

Common signs of acute hypoxia include fast breathing, uncharacteristic mental impairment which leads to poor decision making, and cyanosis, which is a blue or purple hue in tissue due to lack of oxygen. A person with acute hypoxia may suffer from headache, dizziness, and nausea. Some will also feel tingling and hot or cold flashes. It is also possible to feel euphoria, lethargy, and muscular or mental fatigue.

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Acute hypoxia is more likely to occur among pilots and passengers in small craft due to dramatic changes in air pressure. This includes airplane and helicopter passengers. It is also possible to get acute hypoxia in areas with high altitudes. The condition is particularly seen in mountainous areas, thought it could also happen in any place that is extremely high above sea level. These environments can cause the condition because oxygen pressure is so much lower and thus dramatically less available for human use.

Some other causes of acute hypoxia include asphyxiation, alveoli blockage caused by edema, and acute hemorrhage. It can also be simply caused by an obstruction in the airway. Symptoms of an attack arising from these causes can include hyperventilation, hypoventilation, and loss of consciousness.

There are several other conditions of deficient oxygen which may accompany or follow acute hypoxia. One is anoxia, which is when the body is entirely unable to access oxygen. Another is hypoxaemia, where oxygen levels drop dramatically in the blood. There is also ischemia, which is a condition in which oxygen supply is blocked due to restricted blood flow in compromised vessels.

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stoneMason
Post 3

It's kind of difficult to understand hypoxia. The causes are different than what we would expect sometimes.

I had acute hypoxia due to hyperventilation recently. One would think that breathing a lot would cause more oxygen to reach the cells but it's not so. Breathing too rapidly actually makes it difficult for cells to absorb the oxygen, eventually leading to hypoxia.

I fainted as a result of hyperventilation. I remember being dizzy and confused and then I couldn't feel my legs. When I woke up, I was in the ambulance. Once my breathing slowed down and my cells could get oxygen again, I got better.

turquoise
Post 2

@fify-- Actually, that's not true. Air at higher altitudes has less oxygen. At high altitudes, air has less pressure and less oxygen. That's why people who climb a mountain too quickly or go to ski resorts are at risk of acute hypoxia. It usually presents itself with a headache, dizziness, nausea or irritability.

The biggest risk with hypoxia is that it may result in edema or swelling in the lungs or brain. Both of these conditions are very dangerous. So anyone who experiences acute hypoxia symptoms at high altitudes need to be treated right away.

fify
Post 1

I thought that high altitudes such as mountains have more oxygen. So how does one develop acute hypoxia at high altitudes?

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