Can we survive with pure Oxygen as air ?

The air that we breathe contains only 21% oxygen. It means there is no necessity of pure 100% oxygen for a person to breathe properly. But is there any positive or negative side-effect on our body if we inhale pure oxygen. Several researches were done on this topic and results were quiet surprising. To understand the concept of breathing pure 100% oxygen, which sounds quiet healthy, you must understand your breathing process.

Our Normal Breathing Process

Our respiratory system consists of trachea to bronchi to bronchioles to alveoli (larger to smaller in size). Each alveoli is surrounded by pulmonary capillaries containing blood. The wall between these alveoli and capillaries are just 0.5 microns thick, which can let the gases pas through it according to their concentration on both sides. When we inhale the alveolus is filled with air containing 21% oxygen and other gases like oxygen and carbon dioxide. The concentration of oxygen in blood inside the capillary is usually lower than that, thus oxygen flow from alveolus to blood in capillary. Similarly carbon dioxide flows from blood to alveolus as its concentration is generally lower in alveolus. Thus we inhale oxygen-rich air and exhale carbon-dioxide-rich air.

How does pure oxygen harm our lungs

When we breathe 100% pure oxygen then all of it can't pass into the blood as blood has its own limits to carry oxygen.

  • The free oxygen in lungs can bind to surface proteins and damage lungs. 
  • It can also damage central nervous system and retina.
  • Fluid accumulates in lungs and gas flow through alveoli becomes slower.
  • At one atmospheric pressure pure oxygen can cause partial bronchitis in 24 hours.

If the atmospheric pressure of oxygen is higher then the damage will be more. Apollo astronauts used 100% pure oxygen for two weeks without and side-effect because they used it at reduced air pressure. When guinea pigs are exposed to 100% pure oxygen for 48 hours at normal air pressure then damage was noticed in their lungs. Human are also prone to such damage unless reduced air pressure is used. Pure oxygen can cause serious medical condition or even death if given to a human being for days.

Note: Clean air is all we need to breath properly. So instead of thinking about pure oxygen as a way to improve your health, it is better to know the truth that we are meant to inhale a mixture of gases present in normal atmosphere. We should think more about protecting this atmosphere and make it free from dangerous pollutants.

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