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Altitude and the Human Body

in Weather Theory

As discussed earlier, nitrogen and other trace gases make up 79 percent of the atmosphere, while the remaining 21 percent is life sustaining, atmospheric oxygen. At sea level, atmospheric pressure is great enough to support normal growth, activity, and life. By 18,000 feet, the partial pressure of oxygen is reduced and adversely affects the normal activities and functions of the human body.


The reactions of the average person become impaired at an altitude of about 10,000 feet, but for some people impairment can occur at an altitude as low as 5,000 feet. The physiological reactions to hypoxia or oxygen deprivation are insidious and affect people in different ways. These symptoms range from mild disorientation to total incapacitation, depending on body tolerance and altitude. Supplemental oxygen or cabin pressurization systems help pilots fly at higher altitudes and overcome the effects of oxygen deprivation.

 

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