When we breathe in, oxygen enters the lungs and it goes into the blood. When the lungs cannot transfer enough oxygen into the blood, an oxygen therapy program may be necessary to assure that there is enough oxygen in the blood to provide for the body's needs. Oxygen therapy is used to normalize the oxygen level in blood during sleep, rest, activity and during acute illnesses in the hospital. There are many diseases and age ranges for which oxygen therapy may be useful.

There are many Benefits of Oxygen Therapy

  • Oxygen therapy can assist with the growth and development in children with chronic lung conditions. 

  • In adults with chronic lung disease, studies have shown that long-term oxygen therapy has improved quality and length of life. 

  • Oxygen can decrease shortness of breath when you are active and allow you to do more.


When Oxygen Therapy is Required

It is sometimes difficult for you to know when oxygen therapy is required. If your oxygen level is low in your blood, and you experience these symptoms, see your healthcare provider. They can review your overall medical condition and decide what treatment you need.

  • shortness of breath
  • irritability
  • morning headaches or
  • ankle swelling.


Parents and other caregivers need to be aware that infants and children with chronic lung disease also may require oxygen therapy. If your child experiences these symptoms, contact your healthcare provider. They can review your child's overall medical condition and decide what treatment is necessary.

  • frequent headaches
  • behavior changes
  • increased irritability
  • increased sleepiness or
  • a slowing of growth.


Tests that Determine the Need for Oxygen Therapy

Your oxygen level may be measured as a percentage of oxygen in your blood, called oxygen saturation. Oxygen therapy may be necessary if your level is below 90 percent. There are two methods to test the oxygen level in the blood: oximetry and arterial blood gases. One or both of these methods may be used to determine your need for oxygen therapy.

  • Oximetry
    This is a simple, convenient, painless way to determine your need for oxygen where a small clip is placed on the finger, toe, earlobe or an infant's foot. This test may be done at rest, during sleep and while you are walking for a thorough evaluation.

  • Arterial blood gas test
    This blood test is more complex, but the results can provide your healthcare provider with more information about how your lungs are working than oximetry can. For this test, blood is drawn from an artery in your wrist and both oxygen and carbon dioxide levels are measured.


Oxygen Therapy Prescriptions

When a test determines that oxygen therapy is needed, your healthcare provider may write a prescription for oxygen. The prescription will tell you how much oxygen to use and when to use it. The amount of oxygen you need to use is called the flow rate. You need to understand when to use the oxygen and how much to use during sleep, rest and activity.  Remember, oxygen is a medication and should be used only as prescribed.  Oxygen is a medical therapy and therefore, will be paid for by Medicare and other insurance companies. Please check with your insurance carrier to verify your oxygen benefit.


Available Oxygen Systems

There are three systems that can supply oxygen. Each system has advantages and disadvantages, and it is important to choose the system which best fits your lifestyle. They are:

  • Concentrators
    Concentrators are commonly used because they are convenient for both the patient and the oxygen supply company. Concentrators plug into an electrical outlet and take oxygen from the room air. These systems can add to the monthly cost of electricity, may be noisy and may produce additional heat. If you live in a rural area or have frequent power outages, you may need a back-up system. If you are active, you may need an additional system to use when you go outside your home.

  • Compressed Gas Systems
    Compressed gas systems are readily available across the country. Steel or aluminum cylinder tanks, which contain oxygen gas, are available in several sizes. The smaller sizes are portable, however, this system may be a bit more bulky than other portable systems.

  • Liquid Systems
    Liquid systems have two parts - a large stationary container and a portable unit with a small lightweight tank. You can refill your portable unit from the stationary unit. The oxygen supply company will visit periodically to refill the stationary unit. If your needs change, the type of system can also be changed.

If your needs change, the type of system can also be changed.  The oxygen supply company should explain and demonstrate whichever system you choose.


How Oxygen Gets from the Oxygen System to Your Body

Oxygen therapy can be delivered to your body by a few different methods

  • Cannula
    Oxygen is commonly delivered by a small plastic tube called a cannula. The cannula is placed under the nostrils and delivers oxygen to the airways. Oxygen can also be delivered similarly by a facemask.

  • Transtracheal Oxygen Catheter
    An alternative to a nasal cannula is a transtracheal oxygen catheter. This can be used when oxygen therapy is used continuously for a long time at a high flow rate. A thin tube is placed in your neck so oxygen is delivered directly into your windpipe (trachea). Talk with your health care provider if you are considering transtracheal oxygen.

  • Oxygen Saving Device
    If you need a lot of oxygen (high flow rate) or want to be very active, your healthcare provider may consider an oxygen saving device for you. These devices include reservoir or demand delivery. Ask your healthcare provider for more information on these devices.


Common Concerns about Oxygen Therapy

You may be concerned about how oxygen therapy may change your lifestyle, how oxygen affects your body, and whether oxygen therapy is safe.  

  • You may worry that oxygen treatment will prevent you from leaving your home, but many convenient portable systems are available.  In fact, oxygen therapy allows you to be more active by providing the oxygen that your body needs. 

  • Oxygen therapy does not cause any harm to your lungs or your body, if used as prescribed.  You will not develop an addiction to oxygen.

  • Oxygen therapy is very safe and the only thing you need to remember about safety is to keep your face and your oxygen away from flames.  

Talk with your healthcare provider if you have specific safety concerns.


Traveling with Oxygen

Many people travel while using oxygen. Advance planning is important when scheduling a trip.

  • Portable Oxygen Concentrators
    Portable oxygen concentrators are oxygen machines that produce oxygen with the use of a battery, electricity or DC power, for example, the cigarette lighter in your car. There are a number of these concentrators on the market. Many airlines are allowing the use of Portable Oxygen Concentrators to provide in-flight oxygen.