What is oxygen therapy?

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Oxygen therapy for COPD: Overview

Oxygen therapy increases the amount of oxygen that flows into your lungs and bloodstream. If your COPD is very bad and your blood oxygen levels are low, getting more oxygen can help you breathe better and live longer.

There are several ways to deliver the oxygen. They include:

  • Oxygen concentrators.
  • Oxygen-gas cylinders.
  • Liquid-oxygen devices.

You don't have to stay at home or in a hospital to use oxygen. Oxygen systems are portable. You can use them while you do your daily tasks.

Do not smoke or vape or let others smoke or vape while you are using oxygen.

Do not use oxygen near open flames, anything that may spark, or anything flammable. If you or those who care for you smoke, or if there are other risks for fire, it's important to think carefully before you decide to use oxygen therapy. Consider the risk of burns, fire, or explosion.

Oxygen therapy

Oxygen therapy means using an oxygen tank or a machine to breathe in air that contains more oxygen than normal.

Oxygen therapy increases the amount of oxygen in the lungs and the bloodstream. A person with a health problem such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) may need oxygen therapy if there are signs that the cells of the body are not getting enough oxygen.

Oxygen therapy may be given by different methods, including a:

  • Tube placed under a person's nose (nasal cannula).
  • Plastic mask placed over a person's mouth and nose.
  • Tube (endotracheal tube) placed into the mouth and down the windpipe of a person who cannot breathe independently. The tube is attached to a machine (ventilator) that breathes for the person.

Using oxygen therapy at home

If you need oxygen at home, it is important to learn how to use and take care of your equipment.

  • Do not change the setting on your oxygen without talking to your doctor first.

    Turning the flow rate up or down could put you in danger.

  • Keep track of how much oxygen is in the tank.

    Order more in advance so you don't run out.

  • Do not drink alcohol or take drugs that relax you while using oxygen.

    Alcohol, sleeping pills, or sedatives and other drugs can make you breathe too slowly.

  • Be aware of tripping hazards.

    Make sure you are careful when you are moving around. You or someone else could trip and fall over the cords, oxygen tubing, or canisters.

  • Take care of your nasal cannula and skin.
    • Use water-based lubricants on your lips or nostrils. Do not use an oil-based product like petroleum jelly. They may cause skin burns.
    • To keep your skin from getting sore, tuck some gauze under the tubing. Use a water-based lotion on rubbed areas.
    • Wash your cannula with a liquid soap and warm water daily. Replace it every 2 to 4 weeks.
    • If you have a cold, change the nasal prongs when your cold symptoms are done.
  • Use oxygen safely.

    Oxygen is a fire hazard. It will make a flame burn hotter and faster.

    • Never smoke or vape or let anyone else smoke or vape while you are using oxygen.
    • Keep oxygen at least 6 ft (2 m) away from flames, sparks, or heat sources.
    • Do not use flammable products while you are using oxygen.
    • Keep a fire extinguisher at home within easy reach.
    • Keep oxygen tanks upright.
  • Call your doctor.

    Let your doctor know if you:

    • Feel short of breath.
    • Feel restless or confused.
    • Feel very tired.
    • Feel like you are not getting enough oxygen.

How well does oxygen therapy for COPD work?

Using oxygen for more than 15 hours a day may increase quality of life and may help people live longer when they have severe COPD and low blood levels of oxygen. Oxygen therapy may have good short-term and long-term effects in people who have COPD.

What can you expect after oxygen therapy for COPD?

Oxygen therapy can make it easier for you to breathe and may help you live longer. When your body has more oxygen, your body systems can work better. You may be able to think more clearly, be more active, and have a better quality of life.

What are the risks of oxygen therapy?

In most cases, there are no risks from oxygen therapy as long as you follow your doctor's instructions. But oxygen is a fire hazard, so make sure to follow safety rules. Do not smoke or vape or let others smoke or vape while you are using oxygen. Do not use oxygen near open flames, anything that may spark, or anything flammable. Make sure you are careful when you are moving around. You or someone else could trip and fall over the cords, oxygen tubing, or canisters. Avoid touching frost that can form on liquid oxygen devices. Frost can cause skin burns.

Oxygen is usually prescribed to raise the saturations to between 90% to 92%. Higher flow rates usually don't help. They can even be dangerous.

Using oxygen safely

Oxygen is a fire hazard. It will make a flame burn hotter and faster. It is very important to follow the steps below to keep you and your family safe.

  • Never smoke or vape or let anyone else smoke or vape while you are using oxygen.

    Put up "no smoking" signs, and be aware of people smoking near you when you are outside your home.

  • Keep oxygen at least 6 ft (2 m) away from flames, sparks, or heat sources.

    Heat sources include gas stoves, barbecue grills, space heaters, candles, and fireplaces.

  • Do not use flammable products while you are using oxygen.

    These products include cleaning fluid, paint thinner, and aerosol sprays.

  • Keep a fire extinguisher at home within easy reach.

    If you have an emergency, be sure to tell your fire department that you have oxygen in the house.

  • Keep oxygen tanks upright.

    Make sure they do not fall over and get damaged.

  • Be aware of tripping hazards.

    Make sure you are careful when you are moving around. You or someone else could trip and fall over the cords, oxygen tubing, or canisters.

  • Use water-based lubricants on your lips or nostrils.

    Oil-based products like petroleum jelly may cause skin burns.

  • Avoid touching frost on oxygen devices.

    Frost can form on liquid oxygen devices and cause skin burns.

Using Oxygen: Tips for Cannula and Skin Care

Using Oxygen When Away From Home

Why is oxygen therapy for COPD done?

Oxygen therapy increases the amount of oxygen in your bloodstream. If your COPD is very bad and blood oxygen levels are low, using oxygen can help you breathe better and live longer. Oxygen is also used to treat severe flare-ups. Never smoke or vape while using oxygen. Do not use oxygen near anything flammable.

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