Oxygen therapy, also known as supplemental oxygen, is the use of oxygen as a medical treatment.
Oxygen is used to treat hypoxia (deficiency in the amount of oxygen reaching body tissues) or hypoxemia (an abnormally low concentration of oxygen in the blood).
Hypoxia and hypoxemia can be the result of a wide range of conditions including:
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- Cystic fibrosis
- Sleep apnea
- Pulmonary fibrosis
- Severe asthma
- Lung disease
- Trauma to the respiratory system
Oxygen therapy is commonly administered in a hospital setting; however, the therapy also can be used at home. The treatment is usually delivered through a nasal prong device, called a nasal cannula, or a face mask.
Types of Oxygen Therapy
There are three common systems used for at-home oxygen therapy:
- Compressed oxygen. This system uses oxygen stored under pressure in a metal cylinder. This is what most people think of when they hear “oxygen therapy.”
- Liquid system. This system uses a combination of a bulk reservoir, stored in a permanent location, and a portable unit for convenience. A liquid system uses no electricity and the portable unit is smaller and lighter than a compressed oxygen unit.
- Oxygen concentrators. This system works like an air conditioner. It removes air from the home environment but, instead of making that air cooler, it takes oxygen from the air and delivers that oxygen to patients.
A doctor will recommend the best type of oxygen therapy system based on a patient’s diagnosis and lifestyle.
While oxygen therapy isn’t a treatment that can cure a medical condition, it can help improve symptoms, organ function and quality of life. Specifically, it has the potential to alleviate shortness of breath, reduce fatigue caused by low blood oxygen levels and improve sleep.
During oxygen therapy, patients may experience side effects from the treatment such as a dry or bloody nose, tiredness and morning headaches.
Oxygen therapy is generally safe and most patients find that any side effects are well worth the benefits of treatment.
Oxygen is non-flammable, but oxygen therapy systems may pose a combustion risk. Patients should never use flammable materials during oxygen therapy.
Patients using oxygen therapy also should take precautions when traveling. Contact airlines, buses and cruise ships well in advance to alert them of your oxygen therapy. When traveling via car, keep air flowing. If using compressed oxygen, keep the oxygen tank upright on the floor.