One unfortunate fact that leads to much of the misinformation regarding oxygen therapy is that many people on oxygen receive little if any education as to why they are using it. The purpose of this information is to answer some basic questions about oxygen.
Oxygen is a part of the air we breathe. Our body uses oxygen to create the energy it needs to carry on processes essential to living such as walking, thinking, and breathing. Without oxygen, life would cease in less than 10 minutes.
Due to some heart and lung conditions, not enough oxygen is able to get into your blood to supply your body. Once your condition has been stabilized by medications, supplemental oxygen is used to correct a low oxygen level.
This is a common misconception that many people using oxygen have heard. The air we breathe is 21% oxygen. Most people using oxygen are only receiving a slightly higher percentage (about 28% at 2 lpm). This is just enough to bring your blood oxygen levels back to an adequate level. There is no clinical evidence that using oxygen is physically addicting or that using oxygen part of the time will lead to needing it all the time. If anything, using oxygen will help to stabilize your medical condition which may prevent increased use of oxygen later.
There are two types of tests that will reveal a low oxygen level. For the first test, known as an arterial blood gas, a sample of blood is taken from an artery and the oxygen level is measured. The second method uses a device called a pulse oximeter. This test is non-invasive and does not hurt at all.
Oxygen levels should be measured at rest, with activity, and during sleep. If your oxygen level is low during any of these times, you should be using your oxygen at those times.
Not necessarily. Some of the symptoms of low oxygen can be shortness of breath, fast heart rate, changes in the color of the lips and fingernails, but some people will have a low oxygen level without experiencing any of these symptoms. Others may experience these symptoms without having a low oxygen level. The only way to tell for sure is by having the testing mentioned above performed.
Multiple studies have shown using oxygen as prescribed leads to a longer life and improved quality of life. Some people feel dramatically different after they start using oxygen. Less shortness of breath, increased stamina, better tolerance of activity, more restful sleep, improved memory, and clearer thinking are some of the improvements experienced. Others may see little or no difference in the way they feel. Even if you do not feel any difference using your oxygen, it is necessary and will result in long-term benefits.
Oxygen is not stored well in the body. In fact, once people quit using oxygen, their blood oxygen will return to previous levels within minutes. For this reason, it is essential to use the oxygen at the times the blood oxygen level has been shown to be low.
Not using the oxygen as the doctor has prescribed will result in blood oxygen levels remaining low. This causes the entire body to be stressed, especially the heart. A low oxygen level increases the pressure inside the heart and with time can cause it to enlarge and fail, a condition known as cor pulmonale. As stated above, studies have shown that on average, patients not using their oxygen as they should do not live as long and have a decreased quality of life. A low blood oxygen level affects all the body organs including the kidneys, brain, and muscles causing them not to work as well and potentially causing damage to them.
Some people with a reversible condition such as pneumonia may get better and no longer need to use oxygen. Conditions such as congestive heart failure, emphysema, and chronic bronchitis are primarily irreversible and long-term use of oxygen is often necessary.
Oxygen should never be discontinued without testing showing that the blood oxygen level is adequate
An important part of adapting to the use of oxygen is keeping a positive attitude. Patients should not dwell on the negative aspects, but look at all the benefits mentioned above. In many ways it is like getting your first pair of glasses. Sure they feel funny and make you look different, but now you can see to read and drive. Patients with questions should feel free to ask your doctor for more information.
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