Oxygen is an environmental gas that is absolutely essential for humans to survive, maintain metabolism levels, and function normally. However, some people are unable to assimilate the oxygen their bodies need by breathing it from the air. This inability can result from various health issues. With oxygen therapy, they can make up for the deficiency and continue to live normal lives. Oxygen replacement can help improve energy levels, correct disturbed sleep patterns, and provide a better quality of life.
What is Oxygen Therapy?
Oxygen therapy is a treatment by which doctors correct deficiencies of the element in the body with the help of different kinds of equipment. The supplemental oxygen is easily absorbed by the lungs and delivered to the blood. This therapy may be essential for the well-being of patients who have certain ailments that prevent adequate oxygen from reaching their cells.
Your doctor may choose to administer oxygen therapy in his clinic or medical facility or recommend that you set up the necessary portable equipment in your home. Depending on your health condition, you may have to take the therapy for a short while like in specific or emergency situations or to deal with with a long-term illness such as pneumonia or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Assessing the Need for Oxygen Therapy
To assess the oxygen levels in your blood, your doctor performs the arterial blood gas test or pulse oximetry test by using a device that is clipped to your finger or any other body part. Without the need for a blood test, the device reveals the level of oxygen saturation in the blood. A count from 75 to 100 mmHg (millimeters of mercury) is considered within the normal range. However, if the level dips to 60 mmHg or below, that could indicate the need for supplemental oxygen. At the same time, an excess of oxygen or 110 mmHg and above can be harmful because it can damage the cells of your lungs.
Symptoms that Indicate Low Levels of Oxygen Absorption
Several symptoms indicate that your body may not be getting the oxygen it needs. They are:
- Quickened breathing and rapid heart rate
- Wheezing, coughing, and shortness of breath
- Confusion and disorientation
- Changes in skin tone such as a blue tinge in the fingertips and lips
- Fatigue and tiredness
- Fever or increased mucous production that are signs of an infection
How Oxygen Therapy is Administered?
Oxygen therapy can be administered through various channels.
- Oxygen Tanks: Oxygen tanks are typically recommended for people who have chronic illnesses. Supplemental oxygen in compressed gas or liquid form is stored in special tanks. These containers are connected to face masks or tubes placed in the nose also called nasal cannulas. They deliver 30% to 35% oxygen in pulses and need refilling when they run low. Portable tanks are recommended for use outside your home.
- Oxygen Concentrator: This device draws oxygen from the air by filtering out the other gases. It does not need refills and delivers a concentrated form of oxygen.
- Transtracheal Oxygen Therapy: Tubes are inserted into the windpipe or trachea in the front of the neck by way of a process called transtracheal oxygen therapy. Such systems are typically connected to a humidifier so that the added moisture can protect the airways from drying out.
- Breathing Support Systems: Continuous positive airway pressure machines and ventilators are used to provide support to patients who cannot breathe on their own.
- Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy: Given in hyperbaric chambers that have three or four times the levels of normal air pressure, this form of oxygen therapy helps the body absorb oxygen more efficiently. It is used to treat injuries, serious infections, and remove the air bubbles from the blood vessels. Since the oxygen used in such chambers is the purified form, doctors carefully monitor the treatment. They must ensure that oxygen levels in the patient’s body do not become too high.
- Incubators: Mainly used to help babies and infants, these devices deliver 100% oxygen.
Conditions in which Oxygen Therapy is Necessary
Various illnesses may weaken the lungs to a state where they are unable to absorb oxygen from the air by breathing normally. They are:
- Pneumonia, a serious lung infection that prevents the inflamed alveoli from transferring oxygen into the bloodstream.
- Bout of asthma that causes swelling and narrowing of the airways. If medication cannot control it, oxygen therapy may be given to lower distress.
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease that results in permanent damage to lung alveoli. As the diseases worsen, oxygen therapy may be needed more often.
- Sleep apnea where the patient breathes infrequently when asleep causing lowered oxygen levels in the blood.
- Cystic fibrosis, a genetic affliction where the patients develop sticky mucous in their airways that act as breeding grounds for bacteria. Such patients have serious and frequent lung infections.
- Bronchopulmonary dysplasia, a condition where newborn infants have underdeveloped lungs
- Heart diseases because of which the heart is unable to pump sufficient blood and oxygen to the body cells.
- Lung diseases or injuries to the respiratory system.
Effects of Lowered Oxygen Levels
Frequent lack of oxygen in the body can lead to various complications such as fatigue, swelling ankles, headaches, and irritability. It can also take away from the quality of life and hamper the ability to perform the daily activities. Children that have lowered oxygen in their bloodstreams have slower growth and development rates. They may also have behavioral issues. Oxygen therapy can prevent these problems and increase life expectancy of the patients in addition to helping them with the many medical conditions mentioned above.
How to Take Oxygen Therapy
In case you need oxygen therapy, your doctor will write a prescription with detailed instructions that you must follow carefully. The specifications will include:
- Procedure to follow when taking the therapy
- Oxygen flow per minute
- Flow rate
- Frequency with which you must take the therapy. Some patients may need to use it only during exercising or sleeping while other may need it all through the day.
- Make sure to go back to your medical practitioner for regular check-ups so she can monitor the effects of the therapy.
Precautions to Take with Oxygen Therapy
Since oxygen is a combustible gas, you must take every precaution when using the equipment.
- Never smoke or have open flames and heaters around the devices
- Never cook in the same room where oxygen therapy is being given
- Never place flammable materials like oil or grease around the device
- Inform your doctor about any prescription medication you might be taking
- Never use drugs or alcohol that can slow down your breathing levels
- Store oxygen tanks in safe, well-ventilated places
- Install fire detectors and fire alarms around the home of the patient
- Secure all tubes and wires by taping them so you don’t trip over them.
Oxygen therapy is a safe and effective modality that can help patients with medical conditions that make it difficult for them to breathe properly. Take the necessary precautions with the equipment and make sure that you have not taken an overdose of the treatment. If you notice fatigue, headaches in the mornings, and a dry or bloody nose, contact your medical practitioner right away. Aside from these minor side effects, you can rely on the treatment to help you live a long and comfortable life and manage your medical conditions easily.
“Oxygen Therapy.” National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. 12 Oct. 2016. Web. 7 Jan. 2017.
Robertson, Sally. BSc. “What is Oxygen Therapy?” New – Medical Life Sciences. n.d. Web. 7 Jan. 2017.
Stubblefield, Heaven and Gotter, Ana. “What is oxygen therapy?” Health Line. 16 Dec. 2016. Web. 7 Jan. 2017.