How to Know if You Need Oxygen Therapy

Every cell in your body requires oxygen to survive. Normally, you can get all of the oxygen you need from the air you breathe. In some instances, acute or chronic illness can impair breathing so much that your oxygen saturation drops. If left untreated, this can have long-term health effects, including heart failure and impaired kidney function.

How Do I Know if I Need Oxygen Therapy?

Persistent shortness of breath while resting or with minimal exertion may indicate that you need oxygen therapy. To be certain, your doctor will use pulse oximetry readings or arterial blood gas levels to check your oxygen level. Pulse oximetry measures oxygen levels using a small clip attached to your finger. Arterial blood gasses measure blood pH as well as oxygen and carbon dioxide levels.

Oxygen Delivery Systems

There are a number of oxygen delivery systems on the market. In most cases, patients use a home oxygen concentrator or portable oxygen tank along with a nasal cannula. An oxygen mask may be used in hospital settings or when an individual needs high levels of oxygen.

How Long Will I Need Oxygen Therapy?

The duration of oxygen therapy depends on the circumstances. In the case of acute illness, such as pneumonia, you may only need oxygen therapy for a short time. If you suffer from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, you may eventually require continuous long-term oxygen therapy. Depending on the severity of your condition, you may only require oxygen during physical activity or while sleeping.

How Much Oxygen Do I Need?

Your physician will determine the optimal oxygen setting based on arterial blood gas and pulse oximetry readings. Typically, your doctor will prescribe a setting that will keep your oxygen level between 90 and 93 percent. It is important that you do not change the setting unless directed by your doctor. Too little oxygen can result in complications including difficulty breathing, memory loss, and heart failure. Oxygen levels that are too high can depress the natural respiratory drive and cause breathing to slow or even stop. This is especially true in individuals with COPD.

Safety Considerations

Oxygen is highly flammable. It is important that you do not use your oxygen around open flames or while smoking. You should also post signs on all doors advising visitors to refrain from smoking.