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How Long Can You Go Without Oxygen (And Why)?

Exact Answer: Maximum Ten Minutes

The basic necessity for any human to survive is to breathe. To breathe, the most imminent factor is the air, and the most imminent component in the air is oxygen. Without a constant supply of oxygen, no human can stay alive. Oxygen is required in all phases and all functions of life. It helps in growth, reproduction, and much more.

Humans have all the necessary organs that can make complete utilization of oxygen and survive while doing so. The core functions like the breakdown of the food are all possible only via the presence of oxygen in the human body.

The condition where the oxygen level drops in the body are called Cerebral Hypoxia. In such a condition, the person can only survive for a couple of minutes before facing death.

How Long Can You Go Without Oxygen?

Even a minor drop in the level of oxygen in the human body can cause an imbalance in all the activities. It will, in turn, create problems inside the body. When it comes to living without oxygen, it is altogether impossible. It is because on average, a human body needs 5 to 6 ml of oxygen each minute.

In a rare scenario where a human is not getting enough oxygen, it is only a matter of time after which the body will slowly start shutting down. The maximum time that a human can go without oxygen is a mere ten minutes.

The lack of oxygen slowly starts interrupting the everyday function of the body. Eventually, all the functions will cease, and the person dies due to insufficient oxygen supply in the body. It can take about a minute for the discomfort to set in. After a minute, the organs begin to feel the lack of oxygen.

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After around four minutes, damage to the brain starts happening. Once the damage starts, other organs stop working gradually, and after about four minutes to six minutes, the person can die.

However, the timeline is not the same across all individuals. For some, brain damage can happen faster than four minutes, while in some cases, it can also take more than four to five minutes for the brain to damage.

Apart from this, other factors can also impact the time for which a person can stay without oxygen.

EventThe time for which the person can go without oxygen
Till the brain damagesFour Minutes
Till deathTen Minutes

Why Can You Go That Long Without Oxygen?

Since the biology of each person is similar while being different, it can be different lengths of time for which one can stay alive while receiving no oxygen. The main difference in time comes when a person holds experience holding their breath.

Apart from the average timing of eight to ten minutes, a person who can hold their breath can go without oxygen for a much longer time. Similarly, if a person has a pre-existing ailment of the lungs or brain, it can lessen the time for which the person can go without the supply of oxygen.

As per the biology of humans, the brain cells work when oxygen is present in the body. Once the oxygen flow stops, the cells in the brain die, the decrease in the number of brain cells can lead to permanent brain damage in just three to six minutes.

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Since the brain control majority of the body’s functions while sending nerve signals to the body, once the brain damages, the passage of nerve signals stops. It slowly damages other organs that no longer receive nerve signals from the brain.

If the body does not get oxygen for even four minutes only, the person will suffer from a case of lifelong damage. If the cut-off of the oxygen exceeds more than four minutes, it can eventually lead to death.

Conclusion

In general, a person can easily hold their breath for 30 to 60 seconds without any discomfort. Without oxygen, the whole breathing cycle gets impacted right from the start. If the oxygen is absent, it won’t enter the lungs, and also the circulation of the blood throughout the body will not happen.

The human brain uses about 20% of the oxygen intake. Hence, it is the first organ to face damage as the supply of oxygen stops.

References

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2342274/
  2. https://physoc.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1113/jphysiol.1919.sp001844
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