Medical professionals and alternative medical practitioners, as well as stylish bars and spas, promote oxygen therapy as a tool for enhancing health. Modern medicine administers oxygen therapy to restore normal oxygen intake as well as for curing various diseases. Non-medically sponsored use includes enhancing the immunity system, as well as increasing energy and promoting a sense of well-being. Unfortunately, no intervention, including oxygen therapy, remains completely safe from possibly damaging side effects.
Oxygen therapy dispenses oxygen through tanks, cylinders or oxygen concentrators. These methods require the use of various breathing apparatus such as a mask or two plastic tubes inserted in the nose. With hyperbaric oxygen therapy, the individual enters a pressurized chamber or space to receive oxygen under increased air pressure.
Oxygen therapy provides the individual with a higher percentage of oxygen. This practice floods the blood and tissue with fresh oxygen to facilitate cell functioning as well as stimulate blood vessels and nerve growth.
Evidence associated with adverse effects of oxygen therapy remain minimal. Most of the problems associated with oxygen therapy involve the equipment and are not due to the therapy. However, a couple of studies suggest an adverse reactions in specific situations.
A study conducted in 1976 and again in 2005 suggested that treating heart attack patients with high-flow oxygen reduced blood flow through the coronary artery, resulting in damage to the heart. Thus the routine use of administering oxygen to a heart attack victim remains controversial. According to Professor Beasley, from New Zealand's Medical Research Institute (as cited by Kirby, 2007), oxygen therapy needs to be restricted to patients experiencing a reduced oxygen level.
Another possible concern involves faulty handling practices of the equipment, resulting in contamination of the oxygen supply. According to a report by the Dallas County Medical Examiner’s office, one supplier of oxygen equipment to hospitals failed to maintain safe standards, thereby possibly causing 11 deaths due to the patients inhaling a poisonous cleaning solvent along with the oxygen.
Besides poisoning, individuals can ingest oxygen contaminated with airborne particles and other unhealthy substances. These situations occur due to dirty filters as well as worn-out breathing tubes. In addition, some suppliers add oils to flavor the oxygen, possibly leading to serious lung infection.
With proper equipment, oxygen therapy remains relatively safe. However, medical professionals caution those suffering from asthma or any upper respiratory problem. In reality, most younger individuals with asthma fail to demonstrate any health benefits associated with oxygen therapy; therefore this practice appears fruitless to this population. Nevertheless, individuals experiencing any breathing difficulties need not to exceed a 26 percent oxygen intake.
Those experiencing a high fever or viral infection may worsen their condition with enhanced oxygen. Pregnant woman and those with a collapsed lung or recovering from middle ear surgery should refrain from oxygen therapy.
Except for certain situations, properly administered oxygen therapy appears relatively safe. With hyperbaric oxygen therapy, the most invasive procedure, patients often report only mild discomfort associated with claustrophobia. A temporary physical reaction includes blurred vision.
However, individuals should consult with a doctor or other health professional before beginning any oxygen therapy. Some health conditions may produce adverse reactions.