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Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) Learning Center

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Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

What Is Oxygen Therapy?

Oxygen, a gas found in the air we breathe, is necessary for human life. Some people with breathing disorders can’t get enough oxygen naturally. They may need supplemental oxygen, or oxygen therapy. People who receive oxygen therapy often see improved energy levels, improved sleep, and an overall better quality of life.

Who Needs Oxygen Therapy?

Oxygen therapy is prescribed for people who can’t get enough oxygen on their own. This is often because of a lung condition that prevents the lungs from absorbing oxygen, including:

  • COPD
  • pneumonia
  • asthma
  • dysplasia or underdeveloped lungs in newborns
  • heart failure
  • cystic fibrosis
  • sleep apnea
  • lung disease
  • trauma to the respiratory system

To determine whether a patient will benefit from oxygen therapy, doctors will test the amount of oxygen in his or her blood. Low levels mean that a person may be a good candidate for supplemental oxygen.

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, but some people have an oxygen supply in their homes or a portable oxygen system.

Types of Oxygen

Oxygen gas can be stored in a portable tank. Liquid oxygen also can be stored in a portable tank. Liquid oxygen is more highly concentrated, so more oxygen can fit in a smaller tank. This is helpful for people who are very active, but it will evaporate if it isn’t used in a timely manner.

Both liquid oxygen and oxygen gas are available for home delivery in many locations.

Oxygen concentrators are less portable than the other choices. An oxygen concentrator is a device that takes oxygen from the room, concentrates it for therapeutic use, and removes other naturally occurring gases. The benefit of concentrators are that they are less expensive and don’t require filling, like tanks. Portable versions are available; however, most models are too large to be truly portable.

Oxygen is distributed from the tank through a tube. It enters the lungs through nasal tubes, a face mask, or a tube inserted directly into the patient’s windpipe.

Oxygen Therapy Prognosis

Many people who need supplemental oxygen live normal, active lives. In many cases, the oxygen therapy helps increase stamina, decrease shortness of breath, and make activity easier. In some cases, oxygen therapy can increase life expectancy.

Even people who need ongoing therapy due to chronic conditions can live normal lives. Once a patient learns to manage the oxygen equipment, the therapy doesn’t need to limit his or her routine.

Oxygen Therapy Safety Considerations

Even though oxygen is a non-flammable gas, it is necessary for combustion. Fires in areas with excessive oxygen are likely to burn more quickly. Be cautious with oxygen tanks around open flames and heaters, and be sure to store oxygen tanks safely.

Content licensed from:

Written by: Heaven Stubblefield
Medically reviewed by George Krucik, MD, MBA

This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to replace the care and information received from your healthcare provider. Please consult a healthcare professional with any health concerns you may have.
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