Experimental studies and few human reports demonstrate that hyperoxia increases the level of reactive oxygen-derived free radicals and that these substances can produce oxidative cellular injury. However, available data suggest that the human lung is more resistant to hyperoxic oxidative damage than previously expected and demonstrate that absorption atelectasis is the most frequently pulmonary effect of inhalation of a high inspired oxygen fraction. Practically, the therapeutic use of high inspired oxygen fractions is limited to patients with acute lung injury and severe hypoxemia. Recent studies demonstrated that ventilator-induced lung injury is a more important cause of pulmonary damage in these patients than hyperoxic toxicity. New protective ventilatory strategies are associated with increased survival.