In addition to treatment with medication, lifestyle modifications, pulmonary rehabilitation and other measures, some people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) also benefit from home oxygen therapy. This type of supplemental oxygen typically enhances sleep and mood, increases mental alertness and stamina, and allows people to carry out their daily activities more efficiently. By reducing the blood pressure in the lungs and the workload of the right side of the heart, oxygen therapy may prevent the development of cor pulmonale, a type of heart disease caused by high blood pressure in the lungs. Some people fear that using supplemental oxygen will worsen their COPD or make them dependent on oxygen. However, this is not a cause for concern.
To determine whether you need oxygen therapy, your doctor will measure oxygen levels (along with other variables such as carbon dioxide levels) in your blood. Having too little oxygen in the blood can cause symptoms such as fatigue, irritability, an inability to concentrate, breathlessness, heart problems, and fluid retention.
If your doctor recommends oxygen therapy, you will receive a prescription detailing the flow rate (how many liters of oxygen you breathe in per minute). Different flow rates may be prescribed for different activities, such as sleeping versus exercising.
For some people, using too much oxygen can slow breathing, allowing carbon dioxide to build up in the blood, so it’s important to carefully follow the flow rates determined by your doctor. People with COPD who need and use continuous oxygen therapy 24 hours a day tend to have a longer lifespan than those who use it only while awake (15 hours per day). By the same token, individuals who use oxygen therapy 15 hours per day do better than those who use it only while they are sleeping.