Are you pretty good at breathing? It is one thing most people on the planet can do with ease, even in their sleep, however, this can’t be said for others. We breathe for our survival; specifically, to get oxygen into our bodies. Your body requires oxygen to function correctly. All active and passive activities carried out by your body require energy, which can only be produced with oxygen. Through your airways and lungs, oxygen moves into the bloodstream to reach your bodily organs.
Any disruption with the breathing pathway like medical conditions would result in low blood oxygen levels. Without a doubt, it is a struggle not being able to breathe properly – try holding your breath underwater. The greatest help in such a position is oxygen therapy.
Tell me more about Oxygen Therapy?
Oxygen therapy, also known by some as supplemental oxygen therapy is a treatment protocol that provides and allows you to breathe in more oxygen (supplemental oxygen). It can only be obtained with a prescription from your doctor. Some require it for a short time, whilst others require long term oxygen therapy.
Supplemental oxygen therapy can save a person’s life if they have a condition that affects their lung function, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). It is a highly effective approach to restoring healthy and normal levels of oxygen in the body.
You might be wondering how safe prescribed supplemental oxygen is, or what its actual benefits are? Most of your questions and more would be answered in this article.
Types of Oxygen Therapy
There are currently two (2) types of oxygen therapy available:
- Normobaric oxygen therapy
- Hyperbaric oxygen therapy
Normobaric oxygen therapy: This is referred to as the delivery of supplemental oxygen at the normal air pressure in our atmosphere (1 atm). For any given medical condition, a prescription is made within the range of 40-100% of saturated oxygen. In addition, this should always be monitored because of the dangers of having too much oxygen. This form of oxygen therapy has been found to contribute to inflammation, heart disease, and even diabetes, if not supervised by an expert.
Stored as liquid oxygen or generated via an oxygen concentrator, oxygen can be delivered to the patient via a nasal cannula, non-rebreathable mask, incubator (for the infants), or continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP).
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy: Unlike normobaric, this is the delivery of 100% saturated oxygen at much higher atmospheric pressures. Patients in need of this are placed in hyperbaric oxygen chambers, which in turn increases oxygen delivery to all tissues in the body. This treatment has been approved FDA for conditions such as acute traumatic or arterial ischemia, burns, diabetic wounds, radiation injuries, flesh-eating bacteria, decompression sickness, and air or gas embolisms.
Is Oxygen Therapy for Everyone?
Who does need it? It is prescribed for individuals with conditions such as progressive lung diseases and many others. They include:
- Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
- Pulmonary fibrosis
- Severe asthma
- Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)
- Cystic fibrosis
- Heart failure
What are the Benefits of Oxygen Therapy?
Broadly speaking, oxygen therapies have been beneficial to a lot of patients in different ways:
- Improved prognosis and quality of life: When with a condition that causes severe hypoxemia (low oxygen levels), one’s chances of survival and quality of life become a major concern. Long term oxygen therapy is such patients improve survival and the quality of day-to-day living.
- Increased exercise endurance and tolerance: Patients with chronic lung conditions experience difficulties during any form of exercise. Extra oxygen has been found to improve endurance and tolerance whilst carrying out an exercise activity. And also permits you to exert yourself more and attempt more intense exercise routines.
- Reduced COPD symptoms and complications: Supplemental oxygen has been found to dramatically alleviate symptoms of this condition such as shortness of breath or fatigue, and complications such as pulmonary hypertension, cor pulmonale (right heart failure), etc.
- Improved mental clarity and performance: With low blood oxygen levels, it has been found that individuals begin to feel fatigued, foggy, and less alert, which in time results in mild cognitive impairment; a disorder common to patients with severe respiratory conditions, especially advanced COPD. On the flip side, studies have shown supplemental oxygen to prevent and/or slow down the progression of mental impairment in such patients.
- Improves recovery from COPD exacerbations: Studies have also shown oxygen therapy to improve one’s chance of recovery during an exacerbation.
- Safer flights for patients: Patients with COPD are prone to hypoxemia during flights at high altitudes. Supplemental oxygen during air travel has been found to prevent and/or markedly reduce severe low levels of oxygen.
- Batter and more restful sleep
At a glance: Condition-specific
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease is a spectrum of disorders that falls between Chronic bronchitis and Emphysema. Likely causes and risk factors may include smoking, alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency, and inhalation of some air pollutants. Oxygen therapy helps these patients by:
- Improving exercise and activity
- Reducing anxiety
- Increasing life expectancy
- Much better sleep
- Better quality of life
OBSTRUCTIVE SLEEP APNEA (OSA)
Obstructive sleep apnea, sometimes simply known as sleep apnea is a common sleep disorder that occurs when your breathing stops and starts while you sleep. Symptoms may include, daytime sleepiness, loud snoring, feeling very tired, gasping and choking noises, etc.
Wearing a specific mouthpiece or utilizing a CPAP or BiPAP machine to keep your airways open while you sleep can typically solve the problem. Supplemental oxygen is used by some patients with sleep apnea to help them breathe better at night.
Cystic fibrosis is a hereditary condition characterized by the deficiency of the CFTR gene, which in turn results in breathing difficulties amongst a long list of other problems.
In a study of 11 randomized trials (RCT) with 172 participants, the use of supplemental normobaric oxygen therapy was studied and it was found that oxygen therapy assisted CF patients with:
- A better quality of life.
- Better sleep patterns
Another meta-analysis found that normobaric oxygen therapy increased exercise duration, sleep, and blood oxygen levels in 149 patients with cystic fibrosis (RCT).
Side Effects of Oxygen Therapy
Possibly everything with an advantage has a disadvantage. Oxygen therapy is unarguably helpful, but it does come with some side effects or drawbacks. These are some common side effects and risks involved with oxygen therapy:
- Dry mouth, nose, and throat – To relieve dry nasal passages, use a humidifier or saline solution at home.
- Nasal inflammation (rhinitis)
- Morning headaches
- Drowsiness and fatigue
- Trapped air in the esophagus
- Auditory hallucinations
- Skin irritation from contact and friction with oxygen delivery equipment – Take care of your skin by applying lotions as needed to prevent irritation.
- Hypercapnia – Taking in too much oxygen during oxygen therapy could make the exhalation of carbon dioxide more difficult, thereby resulting in a build-up of this waste product in the bloodstream. Symptoms such as shortness of breath begin to ensue in a patient.
- Oxygen toxicity – This occurs when too much oxygen gas is being taken as opposed to the requirement. Hence one of the reasons why oxygen is only prescribed and not personally bought legally.
- Fire risk – Never smoke or use flammable materials around oxygen tanks or cylinders.
Contraindications of Oxygen Therapy?
When should supplemental oxygen therapy be avoided?
- Pneumothorax (air trapped between the lung and chest wall)
- Congestive heart failure
- Severe claustrophobia (fear of small spaces)
- Seizure disorder
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
- Febrile illnesses
Supplemental oxygen therapy can be difficult to maintain, and many patients struggle to stick with it. For many persons with COPD and other conditions of respiratory failure, however, oxygen therapy has numerous benefits.
Watching a loved one go through this or you experiencing it firsthand, may be a horror show, but I’d implore you to focus on the positives; how it has and would continue to improve your life.