Oxygen therapy helps you get more oxygen into your lungs and bloodstream. You may use it if you have a disease that makes it hard to breathe, such as COPD, pulmonary fibrosis (scarring of the lungs), or heart failure. Oxygen therapy can make it easier for you to breathe and can reduce your heart's workload.
Some people need extra oxygen all the time. Others need it from time to time throughout the day or overnight. A doctor will prescribe how much oxygen you need and how often to use it.
To breathe the oxygen, most people use a nasal cannula (say "KAN-yuh-luh"). This is a thin tube with two prongs that fit just inside your nose. People who need a lot of oxygen may need to use a mask that fits over the nose and mouth.
The oxygen used in oxygen therapy can be delivered in a few different ways:
- Concentrators take oxygen from the air. Larger concentrators can be used at home. There are also portable types that can be used outside the home.
- Cylinders, or tanks, of compressed or pressurized oxygen gas come in several sizes. You might use a large tank as backup in your home and have smaller tanks for use outside the home.
- Liquid oxygen takes up less room than oxygen gas. Because of this, smaller and lighter containers can hold more oxygen.
There are two ways to get the oxygen into your lungs:
- The nasal cannula is a flexible plastic tube inserted in your nostrils. It gives you the greatest freedom for moving around and talking.
- A face mask may be a good choice if you need a higher flow of oxygen. But a face mask is less portable and gets in the way of talking and eating.
Why It Is Done
Oxygen therapy increases the amount of oxygen in your lungs and bloodstream. You may need oxygen therapy if tests show that the cells of your body are not getting enough oxygen. This may happen if you have pneumonia, lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), acute respiratory disease syndrome (ARDS), or other conditions.
In most cases, there are no risks from oxygen therapy as long as you follow your doctor's instructions. But oxygen is a fire hazard, so make sure to follow safety rules. Do not smoke or vape or let others smoke or vape while you are using oxygen. Do not use oxygen near open flames, anything that may spark, or anything flammable. Make sure you are careful when you are moving around. You or someone else could trip and fall over the cords, oxygen tubing, or canisters. Avoid touching frost that can form on liquid oxygen devices. Frost can cause skin burns.
Oxygen is usually prescribed to raise the saturations to between 90% to 92%. Higher flow rates usually don't help. They can even be dangerous.