It’s been known by academic anesthesiologists for many years now that helium/oxygen mixture can be used for rare cases of severe upper respiratory obstruction, such as tracheal compression from a large goiter. The idea is that helium makes the inhalational mixture more fluid, by decreasing turbulence and increasing laminar flow, than air’s nitrogen, so more oxygen gets down to lungs. The latest news come from the University of Calgary, where by adding helium to the breathing mixture of COPD patients (60% helium / 40% oxygen), researchers were able to increase people’s physical performance, by improving length and intensity of exercise.
This innovative therapy is significant because research has shown that patients who perform more exercise and get greater improvements in fitness also get better improvements in their symptoms and health-related quality of life.
Eves says he chose this specific gas mixture, because helium is a less dense gas that allows patients suffering with COPD to empty their damaged lungs better, while oxygen slows their breathing and further helps to reduce the shortness of breath these patients commonly suffer from. Standard air is generally made up of 78 percent nitrogen and 21percent oxygen with just a trace of Helium.
In the study, individuals with COPD breathed either the helium/oxygen mix or air during cycling exercise. While both groups improved their tolerance for exercise over a six-week rehabilitation program, the group that trained with helium could exercise significantly longer following rehabilitation than the control group.