What is Oxygen Toxicity and its Effects

MedFog diver using Oxygen

This article includes a detailed overview of Oxygen Toxicity and how it is affecting the body.

Oxygen in the Atmosphere

Oxygen is vital in sustaining most of the organisms. It is used inside the live cells to breakdown foods. Doing this energy is obtained. In the atmosphere, there are several gases, including O2 (Oxygen).

  • Atmospheric composition in descending order
    • 78% Nitrogen (N2)
    • 21% Oxygen (O2)
    • 0.93 Argon (Ar)
    • 0.04 Carbon Dioxide (CO2)
    • Trace amount Neon (Ne), Helium (He), Methane (CH4), Krypton (Kr), and Hydrogen (H2)

According to this, it is clear that the atmosphere is a mixture of different gases. In a mixture of gases, each gas contributes to the total pressure of the mixture. Partial pressure is the pressure of the gas if it was in the same volume and temperature by itself. Hence, if the partial pressure of a gas is high, it means the concentration of that gas is also high.

Oxygen Toxicity

Breathing oxygen at higher partial pressure not safe. It leads to oxygen poisoning.

  • Common causes of Oxegen Toxicity are,
    • Exposed to a very high concentration of oxygen for a short duration.
    • Exposed to a lower concentration of oxygen for a longer duration.

These result in acute and chronic oxygen toxicity.

Acute Oxygen Toxicity

Acute oxygen toxicity manifests with central nervous system effects. The central nervous system is the brain and the spinal cord.

Chronic Oxygen Toxicity

Chronic oxygen toxicity has pulmonary (lung) effects.

Oxygen Toxicity Vulnerable Groups

  • Most vulnerable groups are,
    • Underwater divers
    • Premature infants.
    • Patients exposed to a prolonged high level of oxygen
    • Hyperbaric oxygen therapy patients

How it affects the body

Oxygen is absorbed into the blood at the lungs. Lungs are made by lung cells, which are known as alveoli. Long term exposure to moderate oxygen partial pressures or short term exposures to very high partial pressures cause oxidative damage to cell membranes of the alveoli.
So as an effect of Oxygen toxicity, alveoli lead to collapse (shrunk). As a result of this, functioning cells of the lungs will be reduced. That effects will be present within 24 hours of breathing pure oxygen.

  • Symptoms of collapsing of lung alveoli are,
    • Chest pain while breathing (Pleuritic type chest pain)
    • Cough
    • Difficult in breathing
  • Effects on the central nervous system due to exposure to high O2 levels are,
    • Twitching of small muscle of the hand and perioral (near the mouth)
    • Tinnitus
    • Cold shivering
    • Fatigue
    • Dysphoria
    • Disorientation
    • Hiccups
    • Tingling in the limbs
    • The blurring and tunnel of vision
    • Nausea(feeling of vomiting)
    • Headache
    • Seizures
    • Irritability and anxiety
    • Dizziness

Pulmonary effects due to Oxygen Toxicity.

Pulmonary effects occur due to prolonged exposure to oxygen.

  • In Newborn babies as a pulmonary effects
    1. Retinopathy of prematurity
    2. Retrolental fibroplasia occurs
  • Due to the prologue exposure of oxygen,
    1. Bronchopulmonary dysplasia
    2. Retinal edema (swelling)
    3. Cataract formation
    4. Chest x-ray shows pulmonary edema
    5. A mild tickle sensation on inhalation
    6. Hemoptysis (vomiting blood)
    7. Dyspnea
    8. Fever
    9. Uncontrollable coughing

Oxygen derived free radicals are the cause of developing oxygen toxicity.

  • These free radicals create,
    1. Lipid peroxidation, especially in the cell membranes due to cell membranes, are formed from the lipids.
    2. Subdue nucleic acids and protein synthesis
    3. Mollify cellular enzymes

So the continuation of exposure to a high concentration of oxygen result to, damage pulmonary (lungs) epithelium, inactivated the surfactant which produces by alveoli and it needs to dissolve gasses, form interalveolar edema, interstitial thickening, and fibrosis of the lungs, interalveolar haemorrhage ( bleeding)

  • Treatment of oxygen toxicity is,
    • Reducing the exposure to high oxygen level by,
      • Prolonged air breaks
      • Limited treatment pressure

So oxygen therapy should be administered under observation to prevent the harmful effects.

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