6 Tips for People on Oxygen Therapy

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Women with oxygen mask

If COPD becomes severe, your lungs may not be able to take in enough oxygen to meet your body's needs. Your doctor can tell this by measuring the oxygen level in your blood. If it's low, you'll benefit from oxygen therapy. This treatment involves breathing in extra oxygen using a machine, a breathing tube, and a mask.

Having to rely on an oxygen machine might seem distressing at first. However, this extra oxygen can make it possible for you to manage daily activities. In extreme cases, you might need it to stay alive. These tips will help make using oxygen therapy easier and more effective.

1. Know Your Needs

The flow rate—the rate at which you should be taking in extra oxygen—is a very important number. To figure out the right flow rate for you, your doctor may use the results of an arterial blood gas (ABG) test and something called oximetry. That's a process of measuring the oxygen in your blood.

Once your doctor has determined your flow rate, it's crucial that you stick with it. Too little oxygen can cause damage to your heart and brain. Too much oxygen can also be dangerous. That sends a message to your brain to begin breathing more slowly.

2. Be Vigilant About Usage

You might need oxygen therapy for a good portion of your life. If your oxygen levels are low even when resting, you may need oxygen therapy all the time. Even if you don’t need it at rest, you’ll likely need it any time you walk, eat, or sleep.

It can be tempting to take off the mask, but don't. Keep it on. Once you get used to the treatment, you should see an improvement in your breathing. Your quality of life may improve, too. This will give you some positive feedback and a reason for using your oxygen.

3. Choose the Right Form of Oxygen

Supplemental oxygen is available in two forms:

  • Compressed oxygen comes in large steel or aluminum tanks for use at home. It also comes in smaller tanks that are easy to take with you when you're away from home.

  • Liquid oxygen takes up less space so it comes in smaller containers than compressed oxygen. This makes it easier to take along when you travel. However, liquid oxygen evaporates over time. This means you'll need to be more precise about your needs to avoid wasting it.

4. Consider a Concentrator

An oxygen concentrator is an easy option for many people on oxygen therapy. The device draws in the air around you and concentrates it into oxygen for therapy. This means you don't need to use and refill oxygen tanks. Models are available for at-home use and for travel. The downside is that they can be noisy and use a lot of electricity.

5. Keep Up on Maintenance

Your oxygen device needs some maintenance to keep working at its best. For instance, oxygen concentrators have filters that must be cleaned every so often. Liquid oxygen devices may have a bottle that collects water. It has to be emptied and cleaned. Bottles of compressed oxygen have a pressure gauge that you will need to watch carefully.

Always read and follow guidelines in the instruction manual that comes with your device. Improper maintenance could cause a drop in the amount of oxygen you receive.

6. Play It Safe

Oxygen can feed an open flame, so it’s very important to follow safety guidelines when using oxygen therapy.

  • Don't smoke or use matches, candles, or lighters around any oxygen device.
  • Stay at least five feet away from heaters, stoves, fireplaces, and other sources of heat.
  • Some petroleum-based creams or lotions can be dangerous when you're using an oxygen device. Choose water-based products instead.
  • Be sure to store all oxygen equipment safely. That includes shutting off the flow of oxygen any time your device is not in use.
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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Aug 2

  1. What Is COPD? National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, 2013, http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/copd/printall-index.html

  2. Why Do I Need Oxygen Therapy? American Thoracic Society, 2013, http://www.thoracic.org/clinical/copd-guidelines/for-patients/why-do-i-need-oxygen-therapy.php  

  3. Supplemental Oxygen. American Lung Association, 2013, http://www.lung.org/lung-disease/copd/living-with-copd/supplemental-oxygen.html  

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