Myths About Oxygen Therapy and COPD

by John Bottrell Health Professional

Many people with lung disease will require oxygen therapy at some point in their lives. This is usually accomplished by inhaling a low flow of oxygen through a cannula in the nose, or by wearing a mask. Some people have fears about wearing oxygen. Yet most of these fears can be allayed simply by learning the truths regarding some myths on oxygen therapy.

Oxygen mask in a hospital.

I don’t need oxygen therapy

Chances are if your doctor recommends it, you need it. Your cells, tissues, and organs cannot function properly when oxygen levels are low. You may get tired easily, especially with exertion. Your blood vessels will constrict, and your heart will beat harder and faster to send blood through diseased lungs, which puts strain on the heart. Oxygen therapy can make sure your body gets the oxygen it needs.

Caregiver helping senior with an oxygen mask.

I can’t live a normal life with oxygen therapy

Actually, many people live normal lives for a long time while wearing oxygen. Oxygen concentrators allow you to make oxygen in the comfort of your own home, and some are lightweight and compact, and can easily be carried by a strap over your shoulder when you leave your home. With advanced planning, you should be able to travel anywhere. By using your oxygen as prescribed, you should be able to have a good quality of life.

Senior woman having a medical therapy with oxygen at home.

Oxygen therapy is uncomfortable

Most patients only need a low flow of oxygen to maintain normal oxygen levels. The flow is usually provided by a nasal cannula. The flow is so low that most people admit to getting used to it quickly and not even noticing it’s there. Most people who are prescribed oxygen therapy admit to wanting to wear it. Sometimes a mask is needed. Still, the benefits of the extra oxygen are usually so significant that most people learn to tolerate it rather well.

Man wearing an oxygen mask while sleeping.

I can wear it at my own convenience

It’s normal for breathing to become more shallow and slow at night than during the day. This may cause oxygen levels in people with diseased lungs to drop when they are sleeping. Oxygen therapy at night is proven to prolong life in these cases. If your physician finds that your oxygen levels are low at rest, then you may be required to wear oxygen 24 hours a day every day. It's important to wear it exactly as prescribed by your physician.

Doctor talking to a patient.

Too much oxygen will make me stop breathing

There is an old theory called the “Hypoxic Drive Theory” saying too much oxygen will knock out the drive to breathe. While the theory sounds good on paper, real life experience has caused many physicians to become skeptical of it. That said, the amount of oxygen prescribed by your physician will not cause you to stop breathing. Likewise, oxygen is a drug, and it is never a good idea to increase your dose without first talking with your physician.

Senior couple enjoying their vacation at the beach.

I will have to wear oxygen the rest of my life

While it’s true that many chronic lung patients may benefit from oxygen every day the rest of their lives, this is not true for everyone. Some people may only need to wear oxygen for a while until other medicines start to work. Sometimes it takes a couple months for your lungs to get better, and sometimes up to a year. Either way, it’s never a good idea to stop wearing your oxygen without talking to your physician.

A blue medical oxygen concentrator.

Oxygen is explosive

Oxygen is not fuel, and it is not energy, so it cannot start a fire and it will not explode. However, it is a great oxidizer, meaning that it is great at supporting a flame. It can make a flame grow brighter. It is for this reason that it is essential that you do not put your face near a flame while wearing oxygen. Do not go near gas burning stoves, and do not light up a cigarette.

Caregiver helping senior woman with an oxygen mask.

Be Compliant

Remember, the goal of oxygen therapy is to help you live well with lung disease longer. In order to receive the benefits of oxygen therapy, you must be compliant with the treatment program set up by your physician, and wear your oxygen exactly as prescribed.

John Bottrell
Meet Our Writer
John Bottrell

John Bottrell is a registered Respiratory Therapist. He wrote for HealthCentral as a health professional for Asthma and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).