Do You Need Oxygen Therapy?

Health Professional

Sometimes people with COPD need to inhale more oxygen than what is provided in the air.  The way this is accomplished is by using oxygen therapy.  So what is oxygen therapy, and do you need it?

Oxygen in room air contains 21 percent oxygen.  Usually this is plenty of oxygen.  However, certain disease conditions, such as what may occur as COPD progresses, or during COPD flare-ups, may create areas inside your lungs where oxygen is inhaled, but cannot get to your bloodstream.  When enough of these areas exist, your blood oxygen levels may decline.

To learn more about oxygen and oxygen levels, please read my post "Understanding Oxygen and Oxygen Levels with COPD."

What is oxygen therapy**?** It involves inhaling supplemental oxygen, or oxygen percentages that are greater than 21 percent.  It allows you to inhale 22-100 percent oxygen, depending on the device used.

  1. Nasal Cannula.   This involves inserting prongs into your nose.  A low flow allows you to inhale anywhere from 22-44 percent oxygen.  This is all that is needed for most people with COPD.  It is very comfortable and tolerable.
  1. Masks.  A variety of masks can used to provide up to 100 percent oxygen.  These are not used very often, but are available if needed.

To learn more about oxygen devices read my post "Oxygen Therapy Made Easy."

There are three ways of getting oxygen therapy into your home.

  1. Compressed Oxygen Gas Cylinders. These are tanks with regulators and flowmeters.  Some are larger and stay at your home, and some are smaller for travel.

  2. Liquid Oxygen. They hold more oxygen and are smaller and more lightweight, making them ideal for people who are constantly on the move.

  3. Oxygen Concentrators.  They are electronic devices about the size of end tables that make oxygen by concentrating oxygen from room air.  These are nice because, so long as you have electricity, you always have a source of supplemental oxygen.

These are described in more detail in the post "The Three Types of Oxygen Therapy for COPD."

Most people who require oxygen therapy will use oxygen concentrators at home, and have a variety of tanks as a backup in case of a power outage, and also for travel.

Do you need oxygen therapy**?**  If your oxygen levels are chronically low, this puts strain on your body that can shorten your lifespan.  That said, supplemental oxygen is the only drug proven to prolong life.

Common signs and symptoms of low blood oxygen levels (hypoxemia) are.

  • Bluish tinge to your fingertips, toes and lips

  • Rapid heartbeat

  • Sweating

  • Confusion

  • Feeling winded, especially with exertion

If you, or a loved one, observes these signs, you should seek medical attention immediately.  Your doctor may at first treat your COPD flare-up.  Once you are deemed to be in a "chronic stable state," your doctor may qualify you for oxygen therapy.

**Do you qualify for home oxygen therapy?  **The qualifications for home oxygen are set by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), and they prefer numbers over subjective signs and symptoms.  So qualifying is determined by the following test results:

  1. Arterial Blood Gas:  Your PO2 is at or below 55

  2. Pulse Oximetry:  Your SpO2 is at or below 88 percent

The basic premise goes like this: you qualify for oxygen therapy if your:

  • PO2 is 55 or less or your SpO2 is 88 percent or less at rest while breathing room air.

  • PO2 is 55 or less or your SpO2 is 88 percent or less while you are sleeping; or, if your PO2 drops 10 percent or more, or your SpO2 drops 5 percent or more, while you are sleeping, and you are also displaying symptoms of hypoxemia.

  • PO2 is 55 or less or your SpO2 is 88 percent or less while you are exercising.

How much oxygen do you need?  The goal of oxygen therhapy is to provide you with the least amount of supplemental oxygen to maintain an SpO2 at 90 percent or greater.  Usually, a low flow of 2-3 LPM using a nasal cannula works great.  And, considering the benefits, most people tolerate it very well.

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