Home Oxygen Therapy Burns May Be Linked to Mustaches: Study

Researchers from the Mayo Clinic are warning that patients with mustaches or other facial hair may face an increased risk of serious burns associated with home oxygen tanks. 

In a study published this month by the medical journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings, researchers warn that facial hair may ignite into flames during home oxygen therapy if a spark is introduced, even if the spark is a small ember from a match, grill or even fireworks.

Researchers reviewed home oxygen therapy-related burn cases and conducted an experiment comparing results for mannequins mustachioed with human hair to mannequins with no facial hair. The mannequins were affixed nasal oxygen tubes, nasal cannula tubing, and then exposed to sparks.

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The nasal oxygen tubes on the mannequins outfitted with facial hair ignited into flames after being exposed to sparks. The tubes on the mannequins without facial hair did not ignite.

Oxygen was pumped through the tubes at two liters per minute, the same level which is used during home therapy oxygen treatments.

Andrew Greenlund, M.D., Ph.D., lead author of the study, warns health care providers to counsel patients using oxygen tanks about the risks involved with oxygen tanks and sparks, including cigarette use.

“They can have very bad facial burns and airway burns also,” said Greenlund. “When fire burns the airway, then you have swelling and tissue death. It can be very dangerous.”

Researchers reviewed Mayo medical charts from patients treated with oxygen tube related burns between 1994 to 2013. They found at least nine patients who suffered burns, eight of the nine had facial hair when they were burned.

Greenlund warns that oxygen tanks pose a real risk of burn. More than 1 million people in the United States use oxygen therapy. Experts say the risk of oxygen therapy fires is increasing around the world, especially in countries where smoking is on the rise.

Study authors say the risk can be lowered by shaving facial hair if a patient needs an oxygen tank. Patients can also use water based hair gels instead of ones containing alcohol or oil, avoid humidified oxygen and avoid sparks and flames.

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