Oxygen therapy, sometimes referred to as O2 therapy, is a type of medical intervention that provides extra oxygen, one of the most abundant gases in the universe, to people who are suffering from sudden or long-term health conditions.
The air we breathe contains approximately 21% oxygen. Although this might be sufficient for people with healthy lungs, it may not be enough for people with chronic lung conditions like COPD. That’s where oxygen therapy (O2 therapy) comes in.
Many people believe that shortness of breath is the qualifying factor that gives rise to them requiring supplemental oxygen. This is not necessarily true. Although many people who are short of breath do require therapy, additional criteria must be met before a doctor can justify writing a prescription.
Before being selected for therapy, your doctor will order an arterial blood gas (ABG) study or conduct a pulse oximetry test to measure the amount of oxygen in your blood. Generally speaking, medical oxygen is required if your blood oxygen level is less than or equal to 55 mg Hg or your oxygen saturation level is 88% or lower. Once your doctor determines that your blood oxygen levels are low, she may recommend that you begin therapy.
O2 therapy is for people suffering from the any of the following conditions:
To determine whether a person will benefit from oxygen therapy, doctors test the amount of oxygen in their arterial blood. Another way to check is using a pulse oximeter that indirectly measures oxygen levels, or saturation, without requiring a blood sample. The pulse oximeter clips onto a person’s body part, like a finger. Low levels mean that a person may be a good candidate for supplemental oxygen.
Normal levels of arterial blood oxygen are between 75 and 100 mmHg (millimeters of mercury). An oxygen level of 60 mmHg or lower indicates the need for supplemental oxygen. Too much oxygen can be dangerous as well, and can damage the cells in your lungs. Your oxygen level should not go above 110 mmHg.
Some people need oxygen therapy all the time, while others need it only occasionally or in certain situations. Some oxygen therapy is done at a doctor’s office, and other times people have an oxygen supply in their homes, or a portable oxygen system.
When you aren’t getting enough oxygen, you’ll experience a host of symptoms, including:
If you experience any of these symptoms, seek immediate medical attention.
Oxygen therapy can be extremely beneficial for those who frequently experience low oxygen levels, regardless of the reason. If needed, regularly utilizing oxygen therapy can allow people to be more active and mobile by decreasing shortness of breath. It also can significantly improve quality of life, and in many cases extend life expectancy.
Oxygen therapy can also reduce symptoms such as:
Oxygen therapy also increases or improves:
Oxygen therapy can help the growth and development of children who have chronic lung conditions. It can also lessen symptoms such as headaches caused by low oxygen levels, and behavioral changes or problems.
The doctor will write you a prescription to begin oxygen therapy. They’ll tell you how to use it and how often you should use it. This will include the flow rate, or how much oxygen you’ll need per minute. It is essential that you follow all of your doctor’s specific instructions. If you don’t think the oxygen therapy is working for you, see them before making any changes.
Some people only need oxygen during certain activities, like exercising or sleeping. Other people need oxygen constantly. Most types of oxygen therapy come with portable oxygen tanks so you can leave home with them if necessary.
Do not use drugs or alcohol while taking oxygen therapy, as they can slow your breathing. When discussing oxygen therapy with your doctor, make them aware of any other prescription medications you may be taking.
When used correctly, it is both safe and effective. Like any prescription drug, however, side effects may occur. The following includes the most commonly reported side effects associated with supplemental oxygen and oxygen therapy equipment:
There are important safety factors to keep in mind when using oxygen. Oxygen is a safe gas and is non-flammable, however it supports combustion. Materials burn more readily in an oxygen-enriched environment. Follow these tips for safe oxygen use: