Why Oxygen Canisters (Not Cylinders) are useless against COVID

With the second wave of COVID in India, there has been a surge in the demand for medical oxygen. However, the supply for this commodity is yet to catch up resulting in a shortage in several hospitals. On hearing this report, a lot of people have started panicking and are trying to stockpile cylinders of oxygen. While, given the existing scarcity of oxygen, such behavior could be detrimental to those patients who are in critical condition, what’s even more worrying is that some merchants are misusing this situation to sell useless products at astronomical prices. One such product is use and throw oxygen canisters. These are use and throw cans, which look like deodorant cans, containing 12 litres of oxygen. These products are useless because a COVID patient on an average needs a continuous supply of 1l of oxygen per minute with this rate going up to 2l per minute in critical cases. Therefore, each canister can last 12 minutes at best which doesn’t serve the purpose at all. Moreover, in order to use these cans, one needs to attach a nebulizer like mask to the nozzle and then release the oxygen. While administering oxygen in hospitals, a face mask or direct nasal tubing is used to ensure that all the oxygen dispensed is actually being inhaled, but, the face mask on the canister is not designed to serve the same purpose. Therefore, one cannot know whether the oxygen which has been dispensed is actually being inhaled or just hits the face and escapes into the atmosphere. To visualize this better, you can watch an illustration here.

These canisters would have still been handy, had they not been so ridiculously priced. Comparing the price of oxygen canisters with the price of a 10 litre oxygen cylinder: a 10l oxygen cylinder containing 1500l of oxygen (since oxygen is compressed) costs 10,000 INR i.e. 6 INR per litre. On the other hand, a canister which contains 12l of Oxygen costs 700 INR i.e. 60 INR per litre. This price difference is absolute nonsense.

There are a number of leads on Twitter selling 8/12l oxygen puffs. I recommend that people avoid these puffs. In case you really need oxygen, there are retailers selling oxygen cylinders which can be refilled. One such company is Aira Health that suppliers Oxygen Cylinders (10l cost 10,000 INR) in Mumbai and Pune. You can find several other suppliers on the COVID-19 leads site. You could also rent or buy an oxygen concentrator which I believe has the highest return on Investment. One such company is Rent4Health which is located in Pune and I believe also has an all India distribution network.

I hope this article helps you make a more informed decision. Stay safe.

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Sagnik Mukherjee

I'm building products to aid social workers and Non Profits in India. I also like to write about relevant social issues.