Services combat Hypoxia
KADENA AIR BASE, Japan -- Hypoxia is a state of oxygen deficiency in blood, cells and tissues. The lack of oxygen causes impairment of cognitive and physical functions and can cause euphoria, breathlessness, along with physical and mental difficulties due to low atmospheric pressure in higher altitudes.
This is precisely why the Aerospace and Operational Physiology Team from the 18th Aerospace Medicine Squadron, hosts monthly initial/refresher joint High Altitude Parachutist training classes.
“The HAP class provides parachutists the knowledge and skills to optimize and enhance their performance in jump operations,” said Capt. Ezekiel Duran, 18th AMDS aerospace and operational physiologist.
Students from the Army, Navy, Marines and Air Force are provided academic lessons as well as hands-on training to recognize and combat hypoxia, as it’s a great physiological threat that high-altitude parachutists face on a regular basis.
The AOPT utilizes the Reduced Oxygen Breathing Device which simulates a high altitude environment where students can experience their hypoxia symptoms in a safe setting.
“Today, I started noticing my toes and feet getting a little numb,” said Tech. Sgt. Robert Watkins, 320th Special Tactics Squadron pararescueman. “Then it started getting harder for me to see and think. That’s when I told the operator to put me on O-2 (oxygen) and I started noticing colors getting brighter and my symptoms dissipated.”
Vision changes and tingling sensations are some of the most common symptoms of hypoxia. Other symptoms include nausea, headache, lack of muscle coordination, and eventually unconsciousness.
Upon completion of this training, parachutists will have to get refresher training every five years.
“It was a good refresher,” said Watkins. “Just to come back and recognize the symptoms that you learn in past classes. You might have developed something in the last five years that could be some new symptom of hypoxia.”
Situational awareness is critical when it comes to jump operations, Duran stated. Being able to recognize hypoxic symptoms and taking appropriate action can mean the difference between life and death.
“It makes me feel good, to know I have an impact on aircrew, or jumpers,” he continued. “It’s rewarding to have contributed to the safety of the warfighter while enhancing their performance. This training protects aircrew of the 18th Wing against this physiological threat that is always present.”