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What are oxygen bars? These days, the term “belly up to the bar” has taken on an entirely new meaning! With the advent of the oxygen bar, oxygen enthusiasts from around the world can pull up their barstools, rest their elbows on the counter and order a shot – of oxygen that is! It’s true; for about $1 per minute, virtually anyone can inhale 40% oxygen through a thin, plastic tube for up to 30 minutes at a time. Some establishments even offer monthly memberships and a choice of fragrance. What are the advantages of inhaling oxygen at an oxygen bar? Proponents say that it boosts energy, relieves stress, increases concentration, improves the immune system, eases headaches and relieves hangovers – to name a few.
From medical doctors to government health agencies, oxygen bars are under attack from a growing number of critics. The general consensus in the medical community is: there is no scientific proof that people with healthy lungs gain any real benefit from breathing oxygen at an oxygen bar. In fact, according to some medical professionals, using oxygen recreationally is just bad medicine.
To gain a better understanding about the questionable practice of recreational oxygen one must only look at the biophysical facts behind oxygenation.
Normal oxygen saturation is 95% to 100 percent. The air we breathe contains approximately 21% oxygen. For people with healthy lungs, the percentage of oxygen contained in the ambient air is enough to keep their blood almost completely saturated with oxygen and their oxygen saturation levels within normal limits (95%-100%). If the blood is already 95% to 100% saturated with oxygen, breathing more oxygen won’t make it any more saturated.
“If your lungs are healthy, and you have no breathing difficulties, your body has all the oxygen it needs,” Dr. George Boyer, chief of pulmonary and critical care at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore tells WebMD. “Taking in more is like going to the gas station and trying to fill a tank that’s already filled. At that level, blood is almost completely (99%) saturated, meaning there is no need for additional oxygen.”1
Doctors aren’t the only health care professionals who are concerned about them. In a statement announcing their position, the Canadian Society of Respiratory Therapists announced: “As health professionals, we cannot ethically or morally support providing oxygen therapy to those who do not require it.”
According to MedicineNet, a subsidiary of WebMD, oxygen bars that dispense oxygen violate FDA regulations. However, because each individual state is given regulatory discretion as to the disbursement of oxygen, many states choose to allow oxygen bars. Owners of oxygen bar establishments must be careful not to make medical claims concerning the use of recreational oxygen, as this would violate FDA regulations.2
Although taking a shot or two of oxygen at an oxygen bar is probably harmless for the majority of people with healthy lungs, breathing too much oxygen can make a person with lung disease stop breathing and is therefore, not recommended.1
Author: Deborah Leader RN, BSN, PHN