Vento – A portable device for emergency hypoxia treatment in extreme altitudes
Ascending to high altitudes can cause severe threats for the human body. Hypoxia, the lack of oxygen due to a low atmospheric pressure is a major danger at great heights. Millions of people live in or travel to elevated areas, means that mountain sickness due to hypoxia is a public health problem in many countries. The worst forms of mountain illness are lung and brain edemas that are life threatening and potentially fatal. Within the last years the global trend of mountain climbing or trekking in high altitudes have led to increasing numbers of tourists in remote mountain areas. Due to a lack infrastructure and especially bad accessibility in mountain areas it is very challenging to support people with first aid and transport.
Vento is a compact and portable continuous positive airway pressure mask designed for emergency hypoxia treatment in high altitudes. It is designed for durability and easy usage under extreme situations and rough conditions by non-medically trained users. The product is foldable and therefore easy to stow and carry. It can be packed in a backpack for trekking tours and high-altitude expeditions. But it can also be placed at specific locations like high altitude accommodations, airports and cable car stations.
Vento enables pressure treatment on the lung which increases the blood oxygen saturation in the human body. In other words, the device enables the patient to breathe pressurized air and therefore simulates a quick descent. This can temporarily cure mountain sickness and lung edemas and helps the patient to descent to life saving lower elevations.
A people centered approach was utilized to experience and explore the activities and behaviors of different user groups in mountain areas. Interviews with mountaineers, hypoxia specialists, medical experts and onsite observations with mountain rescuers and the air ambulance provided valuable insights in order to identify the relevant design opportunity of high-altitude hypoxia treatment. The concept of Vento is based on medical research, feedback from the Eurac Research Institute of Mountain Emergency Medicine in Bolzano, Italy as well as practical experiences from mountaineers.
"There is not much to do about it – one needs to get down as fast as possible" Hilaree Nelson and Jim Morrison about the effects of high-altitude hypoxia.
Altitude sickness is a negative health effect caused by rapid exposure to low amounts of oxygen at high elevation. The total atmospheric pressure decreases nearly exponential as one ascends from sea level. This causes lower partial pressure of the blood oxygen and underserves the human body with oxygen. Because of this the environmental conditions become increasingly hostile for the human body with progressive ascent. This requires greater degrees of behavioral and physiologic adaptation to preserve vital functions and long-term survival. Acclimatization is needed to adjust to altitude hypoxia. Rapid ascents to altitudes above 2500m disturb the acclimatization process and often lead to mountain sickness, which is experienced as headache, nausea, dizziness, loss of appetite and fatigue. The major concern in identifying mountain illness is that it might progress to life threatening edemas caused by fluid retention in the lung or brain. Every year mountaineers die directly or indirectly on the consequences of those edemas. Unfortunately, the existing solutions for altitude compensation are made to cover the entire body, thus being big, bulky and not designed for easy use or transportation in extreme conditions and because of this virtually useless.
How does it work?
Vento is a continuous positive airway pressure mask designed for emergency hypoxia treatment in high altitude conditions. It allows the patient to breathe pressurized air in order to simulate a descent and to increase the oxygen saturation in the blood. It can temporarily cure mountain sickness and lung edemas and helps the patient to descent to life saving lower elevations. The product enables a standalone medical treatment and vital observation in severe situations. It can be intuitively operated by a colleague or climbing partner.
To achieve a reliable, standalone product and system that ensures a repeatable treatment, the pressure is created manually with an air pump instead of an electrical or cartridge system. The pump is connected to a pressure reservoir that can incubate the necessary pressure supply. A mechanical valve between the reservoir and the mask regulates the pressure within the mask and on the patient's airway on a constant level of 200 mbar. Two optical vital sensors keep track of the blood oxygen saturation and the heart rate of the patient. The display in the front shows this important vital data and health progress of the patient. Apart from the vital observation, the functions of the device are completely mechanical and therefore reliable in every situation even in extreme weather conditions.
As an outdoor device, Vento is light and space saving. Due to the inflatable pressure reservoir and the flexible air tube the product can be folded to a very a small size. Packed in the soft-shell packaging it can fit in any backpack.
Thanks to its portability, Vento supports people with live saving and intuitive hypoxia treatment even in the most remote areas and highest peaks on earth.