Oxygen bars, originally popular in the 1990s, are getting a bit of second wind right now in the U.S., Canada, Japan and India.
Patrons pay a few dollars to receive between five and 30 minutes of purified oxygen at concentrations double or more of what you get from a breath of fresh air. It’s delivered via a face mask, and can come by itself or infused with aromas like peppermint, eucalyptus, orange and lavender.
Proponents of the oxygen therapy these bars offer sometimes claim they can provide a wide range of health benefits. They say they can reduce stress, boost mood, increase energy levels, and relieve headaches, migraines or flu symptoms.
However, there’s no long-term research on the effects of regular oxygen therapy — let alone research on any potential benefits. The medical establishment also doesn’t see much benefit.
So, do oxygen bars really work?
Do Oxygen Bars Provide Medical Benefits?
There’s no evidence to back up the claims that breathing purified oxygen provides any kind of health benefit for people in good health. In fact, the practice has some medical providers on edge, due to potential complications.
Oxygen only makes up around 21% of the atmosphere, and our lungs are pretty good at getting the most out of that fraction. Normal blood oxygenation levels are in the range of 95 to 100% — meaning that breathing in a purer source of O2 won’t actually provide any more oxygen to your body.
Oxygen therapy can help improve the overall well-being of people with certain conditions — like chronic pulmonary obstructive disorder (COPD). For people with COPD, it’s not abnormal for blood oxygenation levels to dip down between 88-92% — within the range of hypoxemia, or having too little oxygen.
If your blood oxygenation level is lower than 90%, you may need oxygen, but you also probably need medical attention.
These patients, however, typically see benefits from long-term oxygen therapy, with individual sessions that may last as long as 12 hours. Oxygen bars typically limit their patrons to just a fraction of that time — like 30 minutes or less.
Those patients are also receiving oxygen therapy from a medical professional, one who is likely tracking their condition and blood oxygen levels closely.
Are Oxygen Bars Safe?
Some oxygen bars use concentrators that pull in oxygen from the air in the bar and concentrate it. Others use tanks of highly pure oxygen that are designed for aircraft.
Too much oxygen can quickly become deadly. However, the purity of oxygen at these bars is typically around 40%, meaning that, unless you have certain disorders — like emphysema and COPD — visiting an oxygen bar should be harmless.
Before you head out to an oxygen bar near you, however, you should call ahead and ask about bar sanitation practices and what they’re using to provide aroma to their oxygen.
Without proper maintenance, mold and bacteria can build up in the tubing and filters on these concentrators and oxygen masks. When you breathe in, these contaminants could make their way into your lungs.
Scented oxygen may also pose a problem. Many oxygen bars infuse their oxygen with scents by using essential oils.
Inhaling oily substances can cause lipoid pneumonia, a rare condition that develops when fat or oil particles build up in the lungs. Lipoid pneumonia is one of the conditions found in patients with vaping-related lung disease.
Are Oxygen Bars Worth It?
Proponents of oxygen bars claim that receiving a quick burst of purified oxygen can provide you with a range of health benefits — but there’s no real evidence to back that claim up.
Still, while medical professionals are concerned about the potential health risks of the bars, they can be safe if you’re careful.
Visiting a bar that keeps breathing equipment sanitized and skipping out on oxygen infused with oil-based aromas will help you avoid some of the major potential dangers.
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