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D. Understanding High Altitude Sickness

Narrator: This is Science Today. If you've ever traveled to high altitudes, you may have experienced altitude sickness, which is basically a lack of oxygen. John West, a professor of medicine and physiology at the University of California, San Diego, says the body stores of oxygen are extremely small, so when a person is deprived of oxygen, symptoms such as shortness of breath, fatigue and trouble sleeping set in.

West: As you go to higher and higher altitude, the total pressure decreases. It's not that the oxygen concentration decreases, but the total pressure decreases and therefore, the partial pressure of oxygen falls. And so the body just does not function as well.

Narrator: Because miners and astronomers are beginning to work more at higher altitudes, West and his colleagues developed a way to feed oxygen-enriched air into the workers' rooms using an inexpensive, rugged oxygen concentrator.

West: What they found is that their efficiency is greatly increased, the level of fatigue is very much less that they can do much more physical work, that they can sleep reasonably well. And so it's the difference between night and day working at that high altitude.

Narrator: For Science Today, I'm Larissa Branin.