Oxygen is essential to life. It plays a key role in cellular respiration and other important biological functions. Because we breathe in this critical element with the air, persons suffering from respiratory conditions may not receive sufficient supplies of oxygen to maintain good health. Oxygen therapy refers to any of several different delivery systems that have been designed to boost an individual’s intake of this life-sustaining gas.
Respiratory care is a major focus at Baptist Health. Our physicians, therapists, and other providers stay up-to-date with the latest advances in treating pulmonary conditions and diseases. You’ll receive the best that medicine has to offer, always with a human touch.
Why Would I Receive Oxygen Therapy?
Persons receiving oxygen therapy have demonstrated a need for supplemental oxygen. This need typically comes from dealing with one or more of the following respiratory conditions:
- Lung cancer
- Cystic fibrosis
- Congestive heart failure
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- Sleep apnea
Symptoms of low oxygen include shortness of breath, wheezing or coughing, sweating, headaches, fatigue, rapid heart rate, panting, irritability, disorientation, swollen ankles, and skin bluing or discoloration.
How Will Oxygen Therapy Help My Condition?
Good health requires oxygen to fuel metabolic processes. Increasing the oxygen supply for anyone with a respiratory disorder will:
- heighten energy levels,
- accelerate healing,
- improve sleep and restfulness, and
- lift spirits.
Oxygen therapy can also help reverse the symptoms of a deficiency, making life easier for the patient and those around him or her.
What Should I Expect from Oxygen Therapy?
The first step in determining the appropriateness of oxygen therapy is measuring a candidate’s blood-oxygen levels. This can be done directly, by means of an arterial blood gas test, or indirectly, by means of a pulse oximeter. The ideal range for blood oxygen levels is 75 to 100 mmHg (millimeters of mercury). Levels significantly below or above this interval are unhealthy and require medical treatment.
Oxygen-delivery systems come in several formats:
- Oxygen concentrator: This device converts the surrounding air into concentrated oxygen, which is then available for breathing by the patient. It is powered by batteries or electrical current. Concentrators have wheel attachments for portability but typically weigh around 50 pounds.
- Liquid oxygen tank: The oxygen we breathe is a gas but, like other elements, liquefies at lower temperatures. Oxygen has the advantage of storing more compactly in its liquid state, though a typical storage tank can weigh twice as much as that of a concentrator. Liquid oxygen reconverts to a gas when it enters the patient’s breathing apparatus.
- Compressed oxygen gas tank: Compressed gas tanks are an older form of oxygen therapy. Oxygen is bottled in heavy metal cylinders and released to the patient through a breathing apparatus. The gas tanks are cumbersome and are best used as stationary devices.
There are also a number of breathing apparatuses:
- Face mask: The face mask is placed over the nose and mouth, similar to a BiPAP or CPAP device. It is connected by tubing to your oxygen supply. Face masks enable a high level of oxygen intake.
- Nasal cannula: Nasal cannula are plastic tubes that fit your nose. They connect directly to the source of air. This is a less restrictive means of supplementing your oxygen.
- Trans tracheal catheter: A trans tracheal catheter is a small tube that is surgically implanted in your windpipe, through which oxygen enters the respiratory system. This method of delivery has the advantage of decreasing the volume of oxygen required to raise blood gas levels but is also prone to infection.
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is a specialized form of treatment that involves the intake of pure oxygen inside a pressurized room. It is frequently used in treating scuba divers’ decompression sickness, as well as serious wounds and injuries that require highly concentrated oxygen to spur the body’s immunological response.
There are also safety issues to consider, when using compressed forms of oxygen. Oxygen is stable in its gaseous state but can serve as a catalyst for other, more combustible chemicals.
What Are the Possible Side Effects?
Properly-dosed oxygen therapy is generally safe and free of side effects. In rare cases, including episodes of hyperbaric oxygen treatment, the following may occur:
- Middle ear injuries, leading to hearing loss
- Temporary myopia or near-sightedness
- Lung collapse.
What Is My Prognosis with Oxygen Therapy?
Oxygen therapy has proven useful in enhancing the health and quality of life for patients suffering from a variety of respiratory conditions. Hyperbaric treatments have also proven effective in addressing decompression sickness, carbon monoxide poisoning, and various forms of injury.
When It Comes to Respiratory Health, We’re a Breath of Fresh Air
If you’re dealing with a respiratory ailment or condition, see your Baptist Health physician. He or she will be able to assess your condition and determine which medical treatments, if any, are most appropriate for you.
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