Intermittent hypoxia and the chemoreflex control of ventilation

Exposure to high altitude can have adverse physiological effects, including altitude illness and decreased occupational and athletic performance. People can acclimatize to high altitude by making a gradual ascent and taking certain medications, but these drugs can have negative side effects, and gradual ascent is not always possible. Dr. Michael Koehle is researching whether daily exposure to intermittent hypoxia (low oxygen gas) could potentially reduce altitude illness and improve exercise performance at higher altitudes. Intermittent hypoxia is a commercially available treatment that has been shown to increase breathing capacity at rest after six days of the treatment. However, the treatment’s risks and benefits are poorly understood, and its effects on breathing during exercise are unknown. Michael is studying how intermittent hypoxia affects breathing in healthy individuals during rest and exercise. The results could be used to determine the most effective protocol for increasing breathing capacity, and could indicate the optimal dose for preventing altitude illness. The research may also have clinical applications for treating other conditions such as sleep apnea, when repetitive pauses in breathing occur during sleep.