In the last 10 years, oxygen canisters have gained popularity with many canned oxygen brands popping up online, in sporting stores and in big box stores. While the claims made by canned oxygen companies are compelling and the low cost of the oxygen canisters may be alluring to people who require medical oxygen, the fact is that recreational oxygen cannot replace medical oxygen supplementation for a variety of quality control and safety reasons.
Canned oxygen is recreational oxygen stored in an aluminum canister and delivered through a pressurized mechanism. Because canned oxygen is not medical or industrial oxygen, it can be easily purchased over the counter and does not require a prescription. Canned oxygen is not FDA regulated and is only designed to be used periodically rather than continually.
Canned oxygen is made to be used recreationally and intermittently. Manufacturers claim that it can increase your energy, help improve focus and concentration, relieve stress, ease muscle pain, improve stamina, improve sleep and help you recover from jet lag and hangovers. Some manufacturers even claim that recreational oxygen can help slow the aging process. While these are big claims, the question is whether the science really backs these claims up, and so far it does not.
Canned oxygen works by providing pure oxygen in an aluminum canister. The oxygen is inhaled directly from the actuator as it is depressed, which means that even if the oxygen is completely pure inside the canister, it will mix with the surrounding air as it is inhaled from the actuator, lowering the amount of oxygen that is actually inhaled. The amount of oxygen that is successfully inhaled by each user cannot be measured, but manufacturers claim it is approximately 95 to 97%, though this is highly unlikely if only due to user error. The ambient air we breathe contains about 21% oxygen, so these are significant claims. However, it is more likely that canned oxygen provides around 35 or 40% oxygen because of the way the canisters require users to inhale. Regardless, the effectiveness of canned oxygen is significantly less than medically prescribed oxygen delivered via oxygen tank or oxygen concentrator.
It is important to remember that the FDA does not regulate recreational oxygen, and none of the claims made by canned oxygen manufacturers have been evaluated by the FDA. While some athletes regularly use canned oxygen after strenuous exercise, like sprinting, to help with oxygenation, it is difficult to tell whether it is providing actual physical benefits or simply a placebo effect.
Canned oxygen is designed for recreational use and is not approved for medical use, which is why it is available over the counter without a prescription. Since it is so hard to measure the amount of oxygen the user actually receives from a canned oxygen product, it would be irresponsible to use canned oxygen for medical supplementation. For people with lung diseases like COPD and breathing conditions like asthma, attempting to use canned oxygen to treat breathing problems is potentially quite dangerous, and could even be life-threatening. Finally, sharing recreational oxygen with other people could also be dangerous for people who are already experiencing breathing difficulties as it could encourage the spread of bacteria or certain impurities or infections in the respiratory system.
For people requiring oxygen supplementation for medical reasons, doctors are able to prescribe supplemental oxygen via reliable delivery systems like oxygen tanks or oxygen concentrators. The FDA regulates these oxygen sources and evaluates all medical claims, helping to ensure that the product you receive is safe for medical use.
When it comes to therapeutic oxygen for medical use, it is essential to work directly with your health care provider to get an oxygen therapy prescription that meets your needs. Your doctor will evaluate your breathing issues and customize an oxygen therapy plan especially for you. It is important to follow your health care providers’ instructions and prescription for oxygen treatments in order to ensure that you get the maximum benefit.
While canned oxygen should never be used for medical treatment, there are lightweight and portable oxygen therapy options available. Medical oxygen therapy is almost always delivered via oxygen tanks or oxygen concentrators, both of which are regulated by the FDA and can allow your oxygen intake to be carefully monitored. Depending on your unique needs and situation, you may be prescribed liquid oxygen or compressed oxygen, both of which are delivered via tank, or a stationary or portable oxygen concentrator. Because oxygen concentrators are able to provide oxygen without requiring refills, and the portable versions are often much smaller and easier to use than portable tanks, oxygen concentrators are often preferred over oxygen tanks. Talk with your health care provider about which oxygen sources are ideal for your medical needs, as well as how frequently you will need oxygen treatments and for what length of time.
No matter how convincing the marketing may be for canned oxygen, there is almost no proof that it works at all unless you are a serious athlete. While it could be helpful for athletes who frequently sprint or experience bursts of exertion, there have been no proven benefits for any other population. Canned oxygen and other recreational oxygen products should never be used interchangeably or in place of medically prescribed supplemental oxygen, and could be potentially dangerous to the patient if used in such a way. If you require oxygen therapy to help treat your lung disorder or breathing condition, make sure you only use the medically approved supplemental oxygen delivery systems prescribed to you by your health care providers.