Recently we have been seeing companies advertising the sales of oxygen supplementation canisters that supply 99% pure oxygen for home use. In one of the advertisements, the company even highlight that the product has been approved by the Ministry of Health Malaysia. They have used the picture of a child to indicate that oxygen supplementation is safe for children.
Let us start by looking at the air we breathe.
The air we breathe contains 21% oxygen; this is the optimum amount of oxygen that our body is used to. Everyone around the world has been living on 21% oxygen. It does not matter if you are staying on the equator or on top of Mount Everest, the amount of oxygen is still 21%. Of course, the air on Mount Everest may be tinner, however, it still only contains 21% oxygen.
Danger of Oxygen Supplementation
In the current COVID-19 pandemic, many people are trying to supplement the atmospheric oxygen that they breathe with either oxygen concentrators or canisters oxygen. The reason for this behaviour is that there is information about people with COVID-19 who have to decrease the partial pressure of oxygen (PaO2) in their blood. The Ministry of Health is also advising people who have COVID-19 in Category 1 and 2 under home isolation to monitor their PaO2. It is important for us to understand that all the patients with COVID-19 under home isolation is monitored closely by healthcare workers. If there is any deterioration in their PaO2 the COVID-19 patients are admitted to the hospitals for further assessment and treatment.
This is because when the PaO2 deteriorate it indicates that the disease has worsened and is affecting your lungs or heart. The patient needs to be assessed by a doctor in a clinic or hospital. It is not advisable for the patient to use supplemental oxygen. While using the supplement oxygen, although the PaO2 maybe be normal, however, the lungs or heart continue to deteriorate.
Oxygen supplementation should only be given under strict medical advice and supervision. For home use oxygen is only prescribed to patients that have chronic low PaO2 due to chronic lung or heart conditions and should only be given in a controlled amount.
This is because excessive oxygen is not beneficial and can be toxic to the patient. Paracelsus von Hohenheim the Swiss physician and father of toxicology has said that
“All things are poison, and nothing is without poison; the dosage alone makes it so a thing is not a poison.”
This holds true for oxygen. There are many complications that arise from breathing 100% oxygen for a prolonged period of time.
The oxygen coming out from the canister is cold and dry and it needs to be conditioned before we can breathe it. Breathing cold and dry air can damage the lungs and increase the risk for us to get lung infection, e.g., COVID-19.
The oxygen canister is also a fire hazard. When we are using a high concentration of oxygen the risk of fire is there and we need to ensure that the surroundings are free from sparks, flammable liquid, and objects.
The article was written by Prof Dr Victor Hoe for Prof Datuk Dr Subramaniam Muniandy the President of the Malaysian Medical Association in his press release. It was published in the Star Newspaper (1), Star Newspaper (2), Berita Harian Online, FMT, BorneoPost, and the Vibes.