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Is there ever too much of a good thing? Oxygen use put to the test

Historically, oxygen has been treated like holy water but it's time to take a closer look at its role in hospitals.

That’s the call from Professor Rinaldo Bellomo, a researcher at Monash University’s Australian & New Zealand Intensive Care (ANZIC) Research Centre.

Bellomo issued the suggestion following his research involving 1000 ICU patients. Participants were assigned to two groups – one receiving the normal amount of oxygen, and the other a smaller amount.

The study’s findings suggested that unnecessary levels of oxygen make no difference to the recovery of ICU patients and might actually be dangerous for some.

“There’s been an underlying assumption that oxygen is good for patients and doctors should give it to them liberally and should make sure the oxygen levels are high,” Bellomo said.

“But there’s never been any data or evidence or trial [demonstrating] that that’s actually true.”

What's more, Bellomo found “a signal to suggest increased survival with less oxygen” among people who suffered hypoxic brain injury due to cardiac arrest.

“So even though the totality of ICU patients put together do not appear to show a difference between these two treatments, in some specific sub-groups of people, giving less oxygen may well be a good thing,” he explained.

The research team is now planning further investigation into this sub-group.

Overall, Bellomo said the research could bring about a decrease in the amount of oxygen therapy that’s being given “because it’s likely to be seen to be unnecessary”.

“More large trials of oxygen therapy are now a global priority,” he added.

The findings of the study, ‘Conservative Oxygen Therapy during Mechanical Ventilation in the ICU’, will appear in the New England Journal of Medicine.

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One comment

  1. We have known this for many years now. We reduce the amount of oxygen given to people with no lung problems, aiming for 94-97% SpO2. Otherwise we risk causing our patients problems. We don’t just slap on the oxygen and relax.

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