Oxygen Therapy, Facial Hair Combination May Be Hazardous To Health
June 24, 2014

Oxygen Therapy, Facial Hair Combination May Be Hazardous To Health

Alan McStravick for www.redorbit.com - Your Universe online

Physician researchers from the Mayo Clinic have some very bad news for the smoking hipster in your life: continuing to engage in the unhealthy habit will likely lead to the prescription of home oxygen therapy and the need to shave that super-sweet 'Dear Watson' stache.

The study, conducted by Andrew Greenlund, MD, PhD, his wife Laura Greenlund, MD, PhD, and Mayo medical resident Bradley Anderson, MD, demonstrated how the combination of facial hair and home oxygen therapy can be just as harmful to your health as the cancer sticks that got you there.

The report, published in the peer-reviewed medical journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings, details how more than one million people in the United States currently use home oxygen therapy. Outside of the US, its use is also on the rise, most especially in countries where cigarette smoking is increasing. A dangerous by-product of the assistive therapy is the potentiality of combustion due to the increased level of oxygen in the area of the wearer's face and airways. This risk, it appears, is greatly increased in the presence of facial hair.

The researchers explain how moustaches and other facial hair basically serve as kindling when the oxygen from a nasal tube is exposed to a spark of any kind, even if only a tiny ember that wafts over from a recently lit match, grill or fireworks. The team employed the use of a moustachioed mannequin, a facial hair-free mannequin, nasal oxygen tubes and sparks to arrive at their findings. As a result, the researchers believe health care providers should implement a level of counseling with their patients that details this very real risk of injury and possibly even death.

Andrew Greenlund, senior author on the study explained, “They can have very bad facial burns and airway burns also. When fire burns the airway, then you have swelling and tissue death. It can be very dangerous.”

The nasal tubes, known as nasal cannula tubing, used in the study were connected to a home oxygen tank that was pumping out oxygen at two liters per minute. This level is similar to what would typically be prescribed for home oxygen therapy. Both mannequins were then exposed to sparks.

The mannequin that was facial hair-free experienced no flame-related trauma. The poor mannequin sporting the moustache, however, went up in flames. To support their test findings, the team also pored over Mayo medical charts and were able to identify nine men who had suffered home oxygen therapy-related burns over the last 19 years: Eight of the nine had facial hair when they were burned.

As Andrew Greenlund explained, his interest in this study had arisen due to his having treated oxygen therapy patients whose nasal oxygen tubes had ignited while they were grinding lawn mower blades, were hit in the moustache by an ember when someone else lit a match, or they, themselves, were smoking.

“It can be what you might think are innocuous or benign things,” Andrew Greenlund says of potential ignition sources. “But with the facial hair and oxygen, it can be a real risk.”

This study is not the first to question the ignition ability of human hair in an oxygen-rich environment. The Greenlund study results are supported by a previous study by NASA. NASAs findings showed that while human hair is only marginally flammable in normal room air, the risk increases dramatically in an oxygen-enriched environment.

In the NASA study, it was determined that the burn characteristics of hair were different dependent on the environment. In a normal room air environment, ignited hair will burn up, away from the scalp until it flames out. In an oxygen-enriched environment, hair will burn up from the ignition location as well as burn down to the scalp or skin area, causing severe tissue damage.

The Mayo study suggests patients receiving home oxygen therapy could legitimately lower their risk of severe burn if they would only shave their facial hair, opt for water-based hair gels over hair products that contain oils and/or alcohols, avoid sparks and flames and use humidified oxygen.