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What to Know About Using Oxygen With COPD


Elizabeth Hanes, RN

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At Your Appointment

Questions to Ask Your Doctor About COPD

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Your lungs perform two vital functions: they take in oxygen, and they expel carbon dioxide. COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, is a breathing disorder that affects your lungs. COPD makes it difficult for you to inhale and exhale effectively, which means you may be getting too little oxygen or retaining too much carbon dioxide.

Doctors sometimes prescribe oxygen therapy to people with COPD to help the body receive enough vital oxygen. When you first receive a diagnosis of COPD, you may not need supplemental oxygen as part of your treatment. As the condition progresses, your doctor may eventually order supplemental oxygen therapy to help your body continue to function as well as possible. Knowing what to expect will help make the transition to oxygen therapy easier. Here are a few things to know:

1. A home healthcare company supplies your oxygen.

When your doctor prescribes home oxygen, expect to receive a visit from an independent supplier. These experts will deliver all of your oxygen equipment and explain how to use each component. Depending on your individual needs, your oxygen prescription may include any of these items:

  • Oxygen concentrator: medium-sized device that sits in a fixed location inside your home. It supplies oxygen to you by drawing molecules of oxygen out of the air.

  • Portable oxygen tanks: small- to medium-sized cylinders of oxygen that fit in a backpack-style case for transport anywhere you go

  • Oxygen tubing: long runs of clear plastic tubing that deliver oxygen to you from the concentrator

  • Nasal cannula: plastic tubing you wear on your face with prongs that fit inside your nostrils

You will need to replace some of these items periodically. Your home oxygen supplier will tell you which parts (like nasal cannulas) you should change and how often to replace them. Usually, your supplier will deliver these components directly to your home, which makes maintenance simpler.

2. Starting oxygen therapy can be emotionally stressful.

Long-term oxygen therapy requires you to carry oxygen with you at all times. This can feel like a daunting task. Give yourself time to adjust to this new reality. Anticipate that you may feel frustrated or depressed from time to time. This is all natural. You can help minimize the emotional stress of starting oxygen therapy by:

  • Practicing with your oxygen equipment: Put a regulator onto an oxygen tank, and then remove it—over and over again. You will soon feel much more comfortable using your oxygen equipment, especially in public.

  • Seeking a support group: Sharing experiences and learning from others with COPD can help you feel better about this new part of your life journey.

  • Over-preparing instead of under-preparing: Carry more oxygen tanks than you think you will need for a simple outing. This will reduce any stress related to a fear of running out of oxygen when an errand takes twice as long as you anticipated. Carry extra tubing and cannulas for peace of mind.

3. You will have to take safety precautions with oxygen at home.

Oxygen itself is not considered explosive or flammable. However, oxygen can feed an explosion or a fire. Whenever you use oxygen in the home—whether through a home concentrator unit or portable cylinders—some of the oxygen makes its way into the environment. This means fires can burn quicker and hotter in a home where there is oxygen in use.

When you begin supplemental oxygen therapy for COPD, keep in mind these safety tips:

  • Store portable oxygen cylinders in an open, airy place.
  • Do not store oxygen canisters near a water heater, furnace, or other device that uses a flame.
  • If you have a gas range in your kitchen, ask your home oxygen provider about safely using this appliance.
  • Smoking is prohibited anywhere in the residence.
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Medical Reviewers: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Nov 24, 2015

© 2017 Healthgrades Operating Company, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Healthgrades Operating Company, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the Healthgrades User Agreement.

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Medical References

  1. Why Do I Need Oxygen Therapy? American Thoracic Society.
  2. Oxygen Therapy. COPD Foundation.
  3. What Are the Risks of Oxygen Therapy? National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.

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