What is COPD Oxygen Therapy?

M.R. Anglin

COPD oxygen therapy is a treatment in which a doctor prescribes oxygen in order to help those with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) offset low blood oxygen, also called hypoxia. The therapy can help people with stage IV (very severe) COPD live better, longer lives. COPD is a disease that can disrupt the body’s natural exchange of carbon dioxide and oxygen. When the disease progresses so that a person’s blood oxygen levels fall, a doctor may prescribe COPD oxygen therapy. This extra oxygen can help a person sleep, breathe, and stay more active.

Oxygen therapy can be delivered from a large machine or a portable tank.
Oxygen therapy can be delivered from a large machine or a portable tank.

A person undergoing COPD oxygen therapy will often have to carry a supply of oxygen, as well as a way to administer the oxygen. The oxygen can be given through a mask or a nasal cannula, a device that sends oxygen in through the nostrils. Some of the devices that can be used as the oxygen supply are compressed oxygen tanks, liquid oxygen tanks, or an oxygen concentrator. Oxygen is flammable, so the presence of some of these containers may carry the risk of explosion. Each device has certain benefits and drawbacks, and so the best option for one person may not be the best option for another.

An oximeter clipped to a patient's finger to measure blood oxygen may be necessary before a doctor prescribes COPD oxygen therapy.
An oximeter clipped to a patient's finger to measure blood oxygen may be necessary before a doctor prescribes COPD oxygen therapy.

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One of the benefits to using compressed oxygen and liquid oxygen during COPD oxygen therapy is that the oxygen can be stored in larger tanks and can be used to fill smaller, more portable tanks. The drawback is that the larger tanks will have to be refilled when they are empty or if the oxygen evaporates. An oxygen concentrator can concentrate oxygen in the air surrounding a person. The benefit to this device is that it does not need refilling, but it can’t be used to fill up a portable tank. There are also portable oxygen concentrators available, however.

In order for a doctor to prescribe COPD oxygen therapy, he usually must first determine the patient’s blood oxygen level. A doctor can measure blood oxygen using an oximeter, a device that clips onto the finger or toes, or an arterial blood gas measurement, a blood test that measures oxygen levels. Depending on the condition of the patient, a doctor may direct a person to administer the oxygen continuously or only for a certain amount of time per day. It is not wise for a patient to deviate from the doctor’s prescription. Just like too little oxygen may affect the brain and organs, too much oxygen can cause problems such as affecting a person’s ability to breathe properly.

Smoking is a major risk factor for COPD.
Smoking is a major risk factor for COPD.

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