Oxygen therapy for COPD and side-effects
Oxygen Therapy for COPD
Oxygen is an important part of COPD treatment.
By Madeline R. Vann, MPH
Medically Reviewed by Pat F. Bass III, MD, MPH
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While oxygen therapy for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) may make some patients feel isolated or embarrassed, it offers a number of benefits and plays a crucial role in treating severe COPD.
"When the patient progresses to the point where the oxygen level in their blood drops, then they need oxygen," says Norman Edelman, MD, chief medical officer of the American Lung Association and a professor of medicine at Stony Brook University. "Once you need it, if you take it 24/7 then you'll have the best results. It's one of the few things that's actually been shown to prolong life."
COPD Treatment: Benefits of Oxygen
In addition to helping you live longer, using oxygen for 15 or more hours a day can have the following benefits:
Who Should Use Oxygen Therapy
Oxygen therapy is recommended for use in patients whose COPD is considered stage IV or "very severe" based on the amount of oxygen in the blood or the presence of other health concerns such as pulmonary hypertension or congestive heart failure.
A doctor may prescribe supplemental oxygen before you reach this stage, however, and some people can benefit from using oxygen only during exercise, daily activities, or while sleeping. Your doctor will tell you how much oxygen you need (usually more than 89 percent) and when you should use it.
There are some mild side effects to oxygen therapy, including a reduced sense of smell and taste as well as cosmetic concerns related to the cords that attach the mask or nasal prongs to the face.
COPD Treatment: How Oxygen is Delivered
You have several options for oxygen delivery. You will have a source of oxygen (a tank, cylinder or oxygen concentrator) with a flexible cord that delivers oxygen to the nose by way of prongs (called a nasal cannula) or a mask.
"The easiest thing to use is an oxygen concentrator, which is an electrically driven device that concentrates oxygen in the air," says Dr. Edelman. "But if you live in a place where electricity is not reliable, this is not a good option." Many oxygen tanks are portable and rechargeable, so they don't need constant access to electricity.
Perceived Downsides of Oxygen Therapy
Unfortunately, nearly half of patients feel that using an oxygen tank is bulky and embarrassing. They may not comply with their doctor's recommendations for continuous use despite the known positive benefits of oxygen therapy. Instead, they may use oxygen for relief of COPD symptoms — although data suggest that as COPD gets worse, patients use their oxygen more often. Many people avoid using their oxygen therapy when they are attending social or group activities outside of the house, although they may keep a backup supply of oxygen in the car in case they need it.
Some people only use oxygen at night, although studies have shown that using oxygen day and night reduces your risk of death by half compared with people who only use oxygen at night.
If you have concerns about when and where you can use oxygen as prescribed, talk to your doctor. Some patients worry that they might become addicted to oxygen (not true) or that they can no longer travel (also not true).
Video: Management and Treatment of COPD
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