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Do over-the-counter oxygen canisters work?

Countless stores in Summit County sell these silver “hope-in-a-can” oxygen canisters, typically stocked near the check-out counter. Sizes can vary from “pocket” at a cost of approximately $10 to a regular 1 liter size priced at around $20. The can beckons to those seeking relief from symptoms of high altitude. With the promise of up to 95% enriched oxygen in each bottle, it may be tempting to see what these over-the-counter oxygen canisters will do to alleviate the headaches, lightheadedness, or shortness of breath associated with altitude sickness.

Oxygen canisters, do they work to relieve altitude sickness? Breckenridge altitude sickness, Breckenridge Oxygen Bar

But do they work?

One over-the-counter canister gives 50+ breaths before reaching empty. The average breathing rate is 20 breaths/minute. This means an individual would need to use the entire canisters in about 3 minutes in order for it to be effective. Also, there is no ability to control the amount of oxygen that comes out of the canister. In short, these canisters will not work in the event of an emergency.

The fine print on the product itself states, “…not a substitute for individuals who have been prescribed Medical Oxygen (99 percent Purity) for health reasons. It is solely intended for recreational use. Any statements provided have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration and, as such, are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

None of the product’s claims or statements are backed by the FDA.

There are times that a little burst of air is all one needs for a short burst of energy, but these cans are not miracle cures for those suffering from altitude sickness.

Altitude sickness tends to creep in slowly after a quick rise in altitude, causing a shock to the system and sending the body into a defensive mode. The body will conserve oxygen by decreasing the amount of oxygen sent to lesser vital organs such as bowel, muscle and bone, in turn resulting in the typical altitude sickness symptoms including headache, nausea, and generalized fatigue.

Naturally, almost everything adults do on vacation make these symptoms worse including alcohol consumption, decrease fluid intake, indulging in high-sodium meals, stints in the hot tub, and likely vigorous activity on the slopes.

The placebo effect from canned oxygen can be powerful. If your symptoms are mild and you don’t mind the risk of wasting a small amount of cash, feel free to give the product a try. Alternatively, The Oxygen Guys deliver non-prescription oxygen concentrators to rent on a daily, weekly and monthly basis to Summit County & parts of Park County.

Call 970.409.2840 to connect with local oxygen experts and reserve your oxygen concentrator today.

Most Summit County visitors who suffer from altitude sickness will only suffer from the common symptoms (lightheadedness, headache, nausea, loss of appetite, etc), but if you or a member in your group suffer from severe shortness of breath, confusion, or a cough that produces a frothy substance, please call 911 or go the nearest emergency room immediately.

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