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The effects of acute normobaric hypoxia on vestibular-evoked balance responses in humans.

BACKGROUND: Hypoxia influences standing balance and vestibular function.

OBJECTIVE: The purpose here was to investigate the effect of hypoxia on the vestibular control of balance.

METHODS: Twenty participants (10 males; 10 females) were tested over two days (normobaric hypoxia and normoxia). Participants stood on a force plate (head rotated leftward) and experienced random, continuous electrical vestibular stimulation (EVS) during trials of eyes open (EO) and closed (EC) at baseline (BL), after 5 (H1), 30 (H2) and 55-min (H3) of hypoxia, and 10-min into normoxic recovery (NR). Vestibular-evoked balance responses were quantified using cumulant density, coherence, and gain functions between EVS and anteroposterior forces.

RESULTS: Oxyhemoglobin saturation, end-tidal oxygen and carbon dioxide decreased for H1-3 compared to BL; however, end-tidal carbon dioxide remained reduced at NR with EC (p≤0.003). EVS-AP force peak-to-peak amplitude was lower at H3 and NR than at BL (p≤0.01). At multiple frequencies, EVS-AP force coherence and gain estimates were lower at H3 and NR than BL for females; however, this was only observed for coherence for males.

CONCLUSIONS: Overall, vestibular-evoked balance responses are blunted following normobaric hypoxia >30 min, which persists into NR and may contribute to the reported increases in postural sway.

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