Lamenting the Oxygen Bar: Why, oddly, oxygen bars and asthma don’t mix

Sitting in our hotel room one evening on our adventure to Alberta, my friend Jessica and I discussed our probable early arrival at the airport, and what we could do to kill time. I kind of love airports, but it all depends just on how early you arrive at them, right? I mentioned that in my wandering at the Calgary airport on the first day of our trip waiting for our flight to arrive that I’d seen—among my favorite chocolate shop and a toy store—an oxygen bar (or oxygen lounge). We’d both never tried out the oxygen bar (or lounge) thing , and I checked the rate—fifteen minutes for fifteen dollars. We were sold. Except I had this nagging feeling inside my head, like seriously, I think there is some reason I’ve never visited an oxygen bar before. Google reminded me quickly.

Both Jess and I have asthma. Thus, we were both discouraged by the Internet from visiting the oxygen bar pre-flight. Well, not just pre-flight, but anytime.

It turns out, oxygen bars—while providing you with 99% oxygen, rather than the 21% usually found in room air—have the apparent benefit of refreshing your mind and body, decreasing tiredness, increases alertness, and even boosting your ability to remember things.1 An oxygen bar just helps people to “feel good”1—kind of like alcohol but without the calories and hangover, thus the “bar” aspect.

People with asthma (and other lung conditions like emphysema) are basically banished from oxygen bars, though, as I was sadly reminded. That’s because they add “flavors” or scents to the oxygen—some kind of aromatherapy jazz–to help with relaxation. Inhaling these fragrance particles en masse, is highly discouraged for people with asthma2—especially for those of us who already know we react to scents.

However, it’s also not yet known what sort of effects oxygen bars could have on people who have totally healthy lungs. Unless new oxygen tubing and cannulas are used for each client, as would be done in hospitals, cleaning these supplies can be difficult without the right equipment. Without proper monitoring of the humidity levels in oxygen treatments at oxygen bars, mold and bacteria can grow—both being bigger problems for people with asthma, potentially leading to an asthma exacerbation caused by an allergic reaction to the mold (if not the scent!) or a lung infection.2

Well… my brief reading sealed it. Researching oxygen bars and asthma confirmed it even more—we were not chosen for the oxygen bar life. Undoubtedly, we were still disappointed, though!
We, of course (or, me, being slightly more dramatic than Jess), repeatedly lamented throughout the evening about our roadblock to oxygen-ing it up in the airport. Everyday Health did offer up going for a nature walk as an alternative to the expense and probable non-benefit, if not a risk, of oxygen bar hopping… so I guess our time wandering rural Alberta may be provided us some similar benefit?
I still wonder, if they use new tubing for each participant, could I just pay them for the unflavored/unscented O2..?

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