Millions of people suffer with respiratory problems that require them to utilise home oxygen therapy. A portable device delivers oxygen-rich air via tubing to the nose to aid patients in increasing their oxygen intake.
After a trend was noticed in patients suffering from facial burns, research and studies have been carried out which suggest that men who use home oxygen therapy are at a higher risk of serious facial burns. A major factor involved was the presence of facial hair such as moustaches.
NASA had already investigated the fact that human hair ignites more readily in the presence of higher oxygen concentrations but no-one had previously looked into this within the context of oxygen therapy. To test their theory they used mannequins with nasal tubing and exposed them to a spark. Those mannequins with a moustache ignited whereas those without facial hair did not.
“If you’ve ever tried to start a camp fire, you always start with some dry little twigs and once that starts – and that’s kind of the moustache – then that oxygen tubing lights on fire, it’s like a blow torch shooting up their nose,” said Dr. Andrew Greenlund of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. Moustaches and other facial hair can act as kindling for nasal oxygen tubes when a spark joins the mix, even if the spark is just a tiny ember that flies at an oxygen tank user from a match, grill or fireworks.
Avoiding a potential spark in the first place is paramount such as to not smoke whilst using oxygen therapy and to stay away from grinding metal and open flames. Being clean-shaven however would prevent facial burns if there was an accidental spark exposure. If your culture and religion allow it then shaving facial hair would be the main preventative measure in eliminating the risk of facial burns. However if a man decides to keep it then using water-based products rather than oil or alcohol-based ones would help to reduce the risk. Also the poly-vinyl tubing is highly flammable and ideas are being researched into changing the material that the tubing is made from so that it doesn’t burn as easily.
The burns that can occur from a single spark can be very severe and the burns can also travel beyond the external facial skin and cause damage to the inner nose, mouth and airways, causing swelling and tissue death. The degree of the burn can vary but can be serious enough to result in the patient being put on a ventilator whilst the burns heal. They can result in scarring and worsening of their health. The experience of being burnt can be emotionally stressful too, described by one victim as ‘like looking hell in the face.’
The incidence of facial burns have gradually been increasing as more people utilise oxygen therapy and are especially high in the winter, as more men tend to grow beards and moustaches during colder weather. Also the incidence of home fires in general have risen in homes where oxygen therapy is being used and the facial burns can result in a spark from that mini fire on a patient’s face catching other things in the home on fire such as clothing and fabrics.
However as long at users are aware, reduce all risk factors and are careful then there is nothing to worry about.