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Ann Pharmacother. 1992 Dec;26(12):1554-62.

Oxygen toxicity.

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Department of Medicine, Louisiana State University, Shreveport.



The objective of this article is to provide an overview of the biochemistry of oxygen metabolism, including the formation of free radicals and the role of endogenous antioxidants. Pathophysiologic correlates underlying the clinical manifestations of oxygen toxicity are reviewed and management strategies are outlined.


References from basic science and clinical journals were selected from the authors' files and from a search of a computerized database of the biomedical literature.


Articles selected for review included both historical and current literature concerning the biochemistry and pathophysiology of oxygen toxicity in animals and humans.


The benefits of oxygen therapy have been known for many years; however, its potential toxicity has not been recognized until the last two decades. The lungs, the eyes, and, under certain conditions, the central nervous system are the organs most affected by prolonged exposure to hyperoxic environments. Free radical formation during cellular metabolism under hyperoxic conditions is recognized as the biochemical basis of oxygen injury to cells and organs. Endogenous antioxidants are a primary means of detoxifying reactive oxygen species and preventing hyperoxia-induced cellular damage. When this defense fails or is overwhelmed by the excessive production of hyperoxia-induced free-radical species, distinctive morphologic changes occur at the cellular level. The amount of hyperoxia required to cause cellular damage and the time course of these changes vary from species to species and from individual to individual within the same species. Age, nutritional status, presence of underlying diseases, and certain drugs may influence the development of oxygen toxicity.


There is currently no reliably effective drug for preventing or delaying the development of oxygen toxicity in humans. Use of the lowest effective oxygen concentration, the avoidance of certain drugs, and attention to nutritional and metabolic factors remain the best means currently available to avoid or minimize oxygen toxicity. Research is continuing into more effective ways to prevent, diagnose, and treat this disorder.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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