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Front Physiol


Sex comparisons in physiological and cognitive performance during hypoxic challenge.


Vento KA, Borden CK, Blacker KJ
Front Physiol. 2022; 13:1062397.
PMID: 36505049.


Within the tactical aviation community, human performance research lags in considering potential psychophysiological differences between male and female aviators due to little inclusion of females during the design and development of aircraft systems. A poor understanding of how male and female aviators differ with respect to human performance results in unknown potential sex differences on aeromedically relevant environmental stressors, perchance leading to suboptimal performance, safety, and health guidelines. For example, previous hypoxia studies have excluded female participants or lacked a sizeable sample to examine sex comparisons. As such, progress toward sensor development and improving hypoxia familiarization training are stunted due to limited knowledge of how individual differences, including sex, may or may not underlie hypoxia symptoms and performance impairment. Investigating sex differences bridges the gap between aerospace medicine and operational health, and addressing hypoxia is one of many facets yet to be studied. In the current study, we retrospectively examined N = 6 hypoxia studies with male-female participant samples (total, N = 189; male, = 118; female, = 71). We explored sex as a predictor of physiological response, sensory deficits, the severity of cognitive performance declines, and symptom manifestation linear and binary logistic regression models. We found that the female sex predicted lower peripheral oxygen saturation and the likelihood of headache reporting in response to hypoxic challenge, yet explained little variance when combined with age and body mass index. The sensory and cognitive performance models did not converge, suggesting high intra-individual variability. Together, sex, age, and body mass index were not the most robust predictors in responses to hypoxic challenge; we cannot infer this for sensory deficits and cognitive performance within an experimentally induced hypoxic environment. The findings have implications for improving hypoxia familiarization training, monitoring sensor development, and emergency response and recovery protocols in case of a hypoxia occurrence suitable for all aircrew. We recommend continuing to elucidate the impact of sex and intrapersonal differences in hypoxia and other aeromedically relevant stressors in tactical aviation.