What Is Oxygen Therapy?
Oxygen is a gas that is vital to human life. It is one of the gases that is found in the air that we breathe; however, sometimes when lung or heart disease is present, you may require additional oxygen for your organs to function normally. Although oxygen therapy is very common in the hospital, it can also be used outside the hospital. While using oxygen therapy, you will breathe an increased amount of oxygen relative to the atmosphere. There are many devices that can be used for the delivery of oxygen. Your doctor or health-care provider (HCP) will choose the equipment that works best for you.
Here are some conditions that may require supplemental oxygen:
- COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)
- Pulmonary fibrosis
- A severe asthma attack
- Cystic fibrosis
- Sleep apnea
What to Expect?
Some patients need oxygen only with exercise or sleep. You will be tested to see if you require continuous or intermittent therapy. Your HCP will contact a durable medical equipment (DME) company, which will arrange for home oxygen therapy and equipment. Most patients will receive a device called an oxygen concentrator to use at home. If you need to use oxygen outside of your home, you will also need a portable oxygen tank. There are several types of portable oxygen tanks that work differently than an oxygen concentrator. Ask the medical equipment company or HCP to explain how to adjust the settings for exercise and sleep. Oxygen is usually delivered through nasal prongs (an oxygen cannula), although face masks are sometimes used. Oxygen equipment can attach to other medical equipment like CPAP machines and ventilators. Your DME company will set up your equipment and demonstrate how to use it.
What Happens Next?
Most of these devices work best if you take slow and deep breaths through your mouth or nose depending on how the oxygen is administered. Travel can be challenging with oxygen; however, you can use some portable oxygen equipment on airplanes. Ask your HCP how to adjust your oxygen when flying. Your DME company will help arrange oxygen at your destination. Finally, your HCP needs to check you and your device periodically to make sure that you still need the oxygen and that the device settings are correct. For some people, oxygen therapy is temporary and you may be able to stop oxygen if your health improves.
What Are the Risks?
Oxygen increases the risk of fire. You should not smoke when wearing oxygen or use your oxygen around open flames. Oxygen can sometimes cause nosebleeds or a dry nose, and the oxygen cannula can irritate skin. Too much oxygen can sometimes make breathing worse. You should ask your HCP if it is safe for you to increase the flow rate. Portable oxygen can also be heavy and make travel difficult. Ask your DME company if there are lighter options that would work for you. Finally, losing oxygen can be very dangerous if you need oxygen continuously. You should have backup equipment (normally a large oxygen tank) and tell your power company that you have life-sustaining equipment in your home.
Jabril Cooper M.A.Ed, RTT
Samford University School of Health Professions
Melissa Lesko, DO, BA
New York University Medical Center
Kevin O’Neil, MD, FCCP, FACP
Date Last Reviewed