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Is Oxygen Therapy Legit, or Just Hot Air?

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Oxygen bars are popping up across the country, and many athletes, skiers, and mountain climbers swear by the treatment. But does breathing extra O2 really improve workout performance and cure fatigue, jet lag, and hangovers?

What is oxygen therapy?

You strap on a face mask, insert a nasal tube called a cannula—or in the newest iteration of the therapy, hold a spray can to your mouth—and breathe in concentrated oxygen. Medically, oxygen therapy is used to treat conditions like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, but these days "you frequently see it used by athletes after intense exercise or in high altitudes," says Norman H. Edelman, M.D., the senior scientific adviser for the American Lung Association. Devotees claim it helps them catch their breath faster after a workout, increases energy and focus, and speeds recovery from jet lag and hangovers. (Speaking of hangovers—have you heard fo this anti-hangover ice cream?)

Does oxygen therapy work?

It can be helpful at high altitudes, says Michael Freitas, M.D., a primary care sports medicine physician at UB MD Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine in Buffalo. Your body typically takes about a week to adjust to higher-than-average elevation, and until it does, you may have difficulty sleeping, feel dizzy, and get winded easily. Additional oxygen can help relieve those symptoms, but there's no good evidence that it offers benefits beyond that, Dr. Freitas says. "At a normal altitude, your blood is almost fully saturated with oxygen already," Dr. Edelman adds. So what about the energy and performance boost some athletes claim? Than k the placebo effect. (Here's more about what sipping O2 post-workout actually does to you.)

Is oxygen therapy safe?

For the most part, the treatment is harmless, Dr. Edelman says. But stay away from "flavored" O2, which may contain a blend of aromatic oils. "Inhalation of oils of any kind can be dangerous," he says. "The droplets get into the lungs, where they could trigger a serious respiratory condition called lipoid pneumonia.

Where to try oxygen therapy

Many ski lodges offer oxygen therapy because they're situated at high altitudes. If you're opting for canned air, look for a brand that comes with a facemask, like Boost Oxygen ($11, amazon.com). Otherwise, the amount of air that reaches your lungs is negligible, Dr. Freitas says. (Use these tips for conquering high-altitude workouts instead.)

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