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Understanding Oxygen Therapy

Understanding Oxygen Therapy

Apria Editorial |

Oxygen therapy is a medical treatment that involves delivering oxygen to the lungs of patients with low blood oxygen levels or difficulty breathing. Oxygen therapy at home can improve the quality of life and health outcomes for people with COPD and other medical conditions, such as asthma, pneumonia, heart failure, and COVID-19.

What is Oxygen Therapy?

Oxygen therapy is a treatment that provides supplemental oxygen to patients who have low blood oxygen levels (hypoxemia) or difficulty breathing (dyspnea).

Oxygen is essential for the proper functioning of all the cells and organs in the body. When the oxygen level in the blood is too low, it can cause symptoms such as shortness of breath, fatigue, confusion, headache, chest pain, and cyanosis (bluish discoloration of the skin and mucous membranes). At-home oxygen therapy can help increase the oxygen level in the blood and improve the symptoms and complications of hypoxemia.

The Science Behind Oxygen Treatment

The main function of the respiratory system is to exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide between the air and the blood. The air we breathe contains about 21% oxygen, which enters the lungs through the nose or mouth. The lungs are composed of millions of tiny air sacs called alveoli, where oxygen diffuses into the blood through thin capillaries. The blood then carries oxygen to all the cells and tissues in the body through the circulatory system. The cells use oxygen to produce energy and release carbon dioxide as a waste product. Carbon dioxide then diffuses from the blood into the alveoli and is exhaled out of the body.

Oxygen therapy for COPD and other conditions works by increasing the amount of oxygen in the air that reaches the lungs. This can be achieved by using devices that deliver pure or enriched oxygen from a source such as a cylinder, an oxygen concentrator, or a liquid reservoir. PAPOxygen therapy can also increase the pressure of the air that enters the lungs by using devices that create positive airway pressure (PAP), such as continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) or bilevel positive airway pressure (BiPAP). Oxygen therapy can enhance the diffusion of oxygen into the blood and reduce the work of breathing.

Types of Oxygen Therapy

Different types of oxygen therapy can be used depending on the patient's condition, preference, and availability. Some of the common types of oxygen therapy are:

Low-flow oxygen therapy: This type of oxygen therapy delivers a fixed amount of oxygen at a low flow rate, usually less than 4 liters per minute (LPM). The patient breathes a mixture of oxygen and room air. Low-flow oxygen therapy can be delivered through nasal cannula, which are thin tubes that fit into the nostrils, or through simple face masks, which cover the nose and mouth.

High-flow oxygen therapy: This type of oxygen therapy delivers a high amount of oxygen at a high flow rate, usually more than 10 LPM. The patient breathes pure or enriched oxygen with minimal room air. High-flow oxygen therapy can be delivered through reservoir masks, which have a bag attached to store extra oxygen, or through non-rebreather masks, which have valves that prevent exhaled air from entering the mask.

PAP therapy: This type of oxygen therapy delivers pressurized air to the lungs through a mask that covers the nose, mouth, or both. The pressure helps keep the airways open and prevents them from collapsing during sleep or breathing difficulties. PAP therapy can also deliver supplemental oxygen via entrained oxygen into the patient’s circuit. PAP therapy can be delivered through CPAP devices, which provide a constant level of pressure throughout the breathing cycle, or through BiPAP devices, which provide different levels of pressure during inhalation and exhalation.

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Hyperbaric oxygen therapy: This type of oxygen chamber therapy involves breathing pure oxygen in a medical suite that has a higher-than-normal atmospheric pressure. The increased pressure allows more oxygen to dissolve in the blood and reach the tissues that need it. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy can be used to treat conditions such as carbon monoxide poisoning, decompression sickness, wound healing, and infections.

Oxygen Therapy Benefits

Oxygen therapy can help improve the quality of life and health outcomes of people who suffer from chronic or acute respiratory diseases, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, COVID-19, or pneumonia. Some of the benefits of oxygen therapy for pneumonia and other conditions include:

  • Improving oxygen delivery to the tissues and organs, can enhance their function and prevent damage.
  • Reducing the workload of the heart and lungs can lower the risk of complications such as heart failure or pulmonary hypertension.
  • Relieving symptoms such as shortness of breath, fatigue, headache, and confusion, can improve mood and mental clarity.
  • Increasing exercise tolerance and physical activity can improve muscle strength and endurance.
  • Reducing the risk of hypoxia (low oxygen levels in the blood), which can cause serious problems such as organ failure or death.

Risks of oxygen therapy

Oxygen treatment is generally safe and effective when used as prescribed by a doctor. However, there are some potential risks and side effects one should be aware of, such as:

  • Oxygen toxicity is a condition that occurs when too much oxygen is breathed in for a long time. This can damage the lungs and other organs, and cause symptoms such as chest pain, coughing, nausea, and seizures.
  • Fire hazard, which is a risk that arises when oxygen comes into contact with a flame or a spark. Oxygen can make fires burn faster and hotter, so avoiding smoking, candles, matches, or any other ignition sources while using oxygen therapy is important.
  • Dryness and irritation, are common effects of breathing in dry oxygen for a long time. This can cause nasal congestion, nosebleeds, sore throat, dry mouth, and skin irritation. To prevent this, it is advisable to use a humidifier or a moisturizer along with oxygen therapy.
  • Infection is a possibility when using unclean or contaminated equipment or tubing for oxygen therapy. This can cause respiratory infections such as bronchitis or pneumonia. To prevent this, it is important to follow the instructions on how to clean and store the oxygen equipment properly.

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To avoid risks and complications, always use oxygen therapy as prescribed by a medical practitioner.

How to use oxygen therapy safely and effectively

Oxygen therapy is a prescription-only treatment that requires careful monitoring and adjustment by a doctor. Before starting oxygen therapy, the doctor will perform some tests to measure the blood oxygen level and determine the appropriate type, amount, and duration of oxygen therapy for each patient. The doctor will also provide instructions on how to use the oxygen equipment correctly and safely. Some of the general tips on how to use oxygen therapy safely and effectively are:

  1. Follow the doctor's prescription and do not change the flow rate or duration of oxygen therapy without consulting the doctor.
  2. Check the oxygen equipment regularly and make sure it is working properly and has enough oxygen supply.
  3. Keep the oxygen equipment clean and dry and store it in a cool and well-ventilated place away from heat and direct sunlight.
  4. Use a humidifier or a moisturizer to prevent dryness and irritation of the nose, mouth, and skin.
  5. Avoid smoking, candles, matches, or any other sources of ignition while using oxygen therapy, and keep them at least 10 feet away from the oxygen equipment.
  6. Wear a medical alert bracelet or necklace that indicates that you are using oxygen therapy in case of an emergency.
  7. Seek medical attention immediately if you experience any signs of oxygen toxicity, such as chest pain, coughing, nausea, seizures, or any signs of infection, such as fever, cough, or difficulty breathing.

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Oxygen therapy: breathing easier

Oxygen therapy, a vital medical intervention, has transformed the management of various respiratory conditions. By understanding its types, benefits, and safety considerations, patients and healthcare providers can effectively utilize this life-sustaining therapy. As medical science advances, oxygen therapy continues to breathe new life into treatments, offering hope and improved quality of life to countless patients

FAQs

What is oxygen therapy used for?
Oxygen therapy is primarily used to treat conditions that cause low blood oxygen levels (hypoxemia). It's commonly prescribed for patients with chronic respiratory conditions such as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), asthma, pneumonia, cystic fibrosis, and pulmonary hypertension. Additionally, it's used in emergency settings for acute respiratory distress and in cases of carbon monoxide poisoning, severe trauma, or cardiac arrest where oxygen levels in the blood drop significantly.

What does an oxygen therapy treatment do?
Oxygen therapy treatment increases the oxygen concentration in the patient's blood, thereby ensuring that vital organs receive enough oxygen to function properly. This is crucial because all body tissues require oxygen for cellular metabolism. By increasing blood oxygen levels, oxygen therapy helps alleviate symptoms associated with hypoxemia, such as shortness of breath, fatigue, and confusion. For long-term illnesses, it can enhance general well-being and, in certain instances, prolong lifespan.

When is oxygen therapy needed?
Oxygen therapy is needed when a person's blood oxygen levels are below normal, often due to lung or heart conditions that prevent adequate oxygen from being absorbed into the bloodstream. Healthcare providers typically decide on the need for oxygen therapy based on blood oxygen measurements, which can be determined through pulse oximetry or arterial blood gas tests. Indications for oxygen therapy include chronic conditions like COPD, acute conditions such as pneumonia, during and after certain surgeries, and emergencies like carbon monoxide poisoning or severe anaphylactic reactions.

What are the side effects of oxygen therapy?
While oxygen therapy is generally safe, it can have side effects, particularly if used at high concentrations or for extended periods. Common side effects include:

  • Dry or Bloody Nose: This is often due to the dry nature of supplemental oxygen. Using a humidifier can help.
  • Morning Headaches: High levels of oxygen during the night can cause headaches.
  • Fatigue and Drowsiness: Sometimes reported with long-term use.
  • Oxygen Toxicity: Occurs when oxygen is administered at very high concentrations, affecting lung function and leading to respiratory complications.
  • Fire Risk: Oxygen supports combustion, so it's important to avoid smoking or being near open flames while using oxygen therapy.

Patients using oxygen therapy should always follow their healthcare provider's instructions and report any side effects or concerns to ensure safe and effective treatment.
As a leading supplier of durable and home medical equipment (DME and HME), ApriaHome sources and distributes a wide range of treatment solutions, including assistive respiratory equipment and monitoring solutions.

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