Inspired partial pressure of oxygen (PO2) and lack of oxygen
Reduction in oxygen level is best described by the fall in inspired partial pressure of oxygen (PO2).
The partial pressure is the pressure that a particular gas exerts independently. This is the pressure that a component of a gaseous mixture would have if it alone occupied the same volume at the same temperature as the mixture.
The partial pressure can be calculated by the following formula: Partial pressure = %gas x atmospheric pressure
Where the atmosphere pressure is PN2 + PO2 + PCO2 + PH2O, in accordance with Dalton's Law (the total pressure of a mixture of gases is the sum of the pressures each component would have if it alone occupied the volume of the mixture at its temperature). The atmosphere pressure varies at different latitudes and altitudes .
It should be taken into account that for low latitudes (ex. Ecuador) the barometric pressure for a given altitude is higher than predicted from the Standard Atmosphere (1atm representative for pressure at sea level at T=20C)
Physiological effects of oxygen deprivation
Some experiments have been carried out to increase the oxygen concentration in enclosed areas from a 21% to a 24-27% content. This is specially desirable at places where a lack of oxygen is a fact such as, working areas at high altitudes, wells or underground working sites with low ventilation, etc.. Also some experimental systems which require the application of oxygen has been carried, e.g. floating chambers and insulation chambers.
The most common physiological effects of high sites where there is low oxygen pressure are breathlessness, irritability, headaches, nausea and poor judgment. Other effects caused by a lack of oxygen are impairs in sleep quality, problems in mental performance productivity and general dissatisfaction. For example, one of the most unpleasant features of going to high altitude is difficulties with sleeping.
The rate at which humans can perform physical work (power output) depends on the amount of oxygen available to the body, so it is not surprising that as the altitude increases, maximal oxygen uptake falls and therefore the need for supplementary oxygen is well recommended.
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Click here for more information about oxygen as an element.