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High concentrations of inspired oxygen are associated with pulmonary atelectasis but also provide recognized advantages. Consequently, the appropriate inspired oxygen concentration for general surgical use remains controversial. The authors tested the hypothesis that atelectasis and pulmonary dysfunction on the first postoperative day are comparable in patients given 30% or 80% perioperative oxygen.Thirty patients aged 18–65 yr were anesthetized with isoflurane and randomly assigned to 30% or 80% oxygen during and for 2 h after colon resection. Chest radiographs and pulmonary function tests (forced vital capacity and forced expiratory volume) were obtained preoperatively and on the first postoperative day. Arterial blood gas measurements were obtained intraoperatively, after 2 h of recovery, and on the first postoperative day. Computed tomography scans of the chest were also obtained on the first postoperative day.Postoperative pulmonary mechanical function was significantly reduced compared with preoperative values, but there was no difference between the groups at either time. Arterial gas partial pressures and the alveolar–arterial oxygen difference were also comparable in the two groups. All preoperative chest radiographs were normal. Postoperative radiographs showed atelectasis in 36% of the patients in the 30%-oxygen group and in 44% of those in the 80%-oxygen group. Relatively small amounts of pulmonary atelectasis (expressed as a percentage of total lung volume) were observed on the computed tomography scans, and the percentages (mean ± SD) did not differ significantly in the patients given 30% oxygen (2.5% ± 3.2%) or 80% oxygen (3.0% ± 1.8%). These data provided a 99% chance of detecting a 2% difference in atelectasis volume at an α level of 0.05.Lung volumes, the incidence and severity of atelectasis, and alveolar gas exchange were comparable in patients given 30% and 80% perioperative oxygen. The authors conclude that administration of 80% oxygen in the perioperative period does not worsen lung function. Therefore, patients who may benefit from generous oxygen partial pressures should not be denied supplemental perioperative oxygen for fear of causing atelectasis.