Oxygen Therapy

Last Updated 05/07/2020

Authors:Jabril Cooper, MAEd, RTT; Melissa Lesko, DO, BA; Kevin O’Neil, MD, FCCP, FACP

About Oxygen Therapy

Key facts about oxygen therapy
  • Oxygen therapy can help with a variety of lung and heart diseases.
  • You can use oxygen therapy in your own home.
  • Oxygen therapy can improve your quality of life and body function.

Oxygen is a gas we need to stay alive. It’s one of the gases found in the air that we breathe. Sometimes, however, if you have lung or heart disease, you may require extra oxygen, called oxygen therapy, for your body to function normally. Although oxygen therapy is common in the hospital, it can also be used outside the hospital. Many devices can provide oxygen therapy. Your health care provider will choose the device or devices that work best for you.

What are reasons you may need Oxygen Therapy?

There are many reasons you may need extra oxygen. Some of these reasons include:

Who may need Oxygen Therapy?

If you have been diagnosed with a disease that makes it hard to breathe, you may have symptoms such as:

  • Shortness of breath, especially when you walk or exercise;
  • Cough;
  • Tiredness;
  • Headaches;
  • Swollen ankles when you get up in the morning; and
  • Blue fingertips or lips.

Low oxygen levels in your blood affect your body in several ways. Lung disease may change the tubes in your lungs (called alveoli), which may cause your heart to pump harder to move blood and oxygen through your body.

Low oxygen levels make it hard for you to do basic activities or even walk. All organs in your body need to have enough oxygen to work properly. Most importantly, low oxygen may affect your brain. You may notice, for example, that you have trouble focusing or remembering things, or you may slur your words.

Your health care provider will need to perform tests to see if you need oxygen therapy. For example, your provider may do a test to see how much oxygen is in your blood. He or she can then use that and other information to decide if you need oxygen therapy. You may need extra oxygen only at certain times, like during sleep or exercise, or you may need it all the time.

What to expect

Your health care team will help you contact a durable medical equipment (DME) supplier that brings oxygen therapy equipment to your home. The DME supplier will set up your equipment and show you how to use it. If you need to use oxygen outside your home, you will also need portable oxygen equipment. Ask your DME supplier or health care provider to show you how to adjust your oxygen flow for different activities.

Oxygen therapy uses tubing with small nasal prongs (called a nasal cannula) or sometimes a face mask to give your body the oxygen. Oxygen therapy works best if you take slow, deep breaths. Traveling with oxygen can be difficult, but there are some oxygen therapy devices you can take on airplanes. Some people are on oxygen for a long time; other people may be able to stop oxygen therapy if their health improves.

Oxygen therapy will help you breathe better so that you can do your daily activities as much as possible. Once you start oxygen therapy, you may notice benefits such as:

  • Better quality of life;
  • Being out of breath less and being less tired;
  • Having more energy; and
  • Having better memory and clearer thinking.

Remember, oxygen therapy can make you feel better than you did before you started!

What are the risks?

  • Oxygen increases the risk of fire, so don’t smoke when wearing oxygen or use your oxygen around open flames, such as gas stoves or grills.
  • You may have nosebleeds or a dry nose, and the cannula may irritate your skin.
  • Too much or too little oxygen could be a problem, so ask your provider before you change the amount of oxygen you’re on.
  • If your oxygen therapy system requires electricity to work, make sure you have backup oxygen in case the power goes out (and let your power company know that you have oxygen therapy equipment in your home).


The American Lung Association recommends that patients and caregivers join its Living with Lung Disease support community to connect with others who have lung disease. To talk to a trained lung professional, call the American Lung Association’s Lung Helpline at 1-800-LUNGUSA. They can help answer your questions and connect you with additional support.