Oxygen therapy can help people with certain health conditions, such as emphysema, sleep apnea, or severe COVID-19, get enough oxygen to stay well and function.

Oxygen therapy may be a temporary treatment, for example, when someone is recovering from an illness. Sometimes, it is a permanent solution in response to certain diseases. Undergoing this therapy can help prevent a drop in blood oxygen levels — known as hypoxemia — which may damage the organs over time.

This article will review the role of oxygen therapy, who may need it, the types available, their benefits, and what people need to consider when storing oxygen for medical purposes.

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Oxygen therapy can help people with breathing or lung issues get the oxygen their body needs to function and stay well.

This therapy provides more oxygen to the body, compensating for what it cannot get when a person breathes air. Usually, air contains about 20% oxygen and 80% nitrogen. The lungs then filter the oxygen and send it around the body through the bloodstream.

When a person undergoes oxygen therapy, they breathe in air containing higher than typical oxygen levels.

Oxygen therapy is also known as supplemental oxygen.

Oxygen therapy can be useful for people who have certain health conditions, such as:

There may be other reasons why a doctor prescribes it, including experiencing complications with obesity.

A healthy oxygen level, also known as oxygen saturation, is 95% or higher. When oxygen saturation is 88% or lower, doctors prescribe oxygen therapy to increase this level and reduce the risk of health complications.

People can use a pulse oximeter at home to measure their oxygen levels. This device clips onto the finger, earlobe, or toe.

What can low oxygen levels mean?

Doctors consider oxygen levels to be atypical if they fall below 95%. When this occurs, people may experience several symptoms, such as thinking and visual difficulties.

However, when oxygen levels are seriously low, they can cause physical symptoms.

Low oxygen symptoms may include:

Extremely low oxygen levels can damage organs and be life threatening.

Oxygen therapy has several benefits, such as:

  • improving breathlessness
  • reducing fatigue
  • providing better sleep quality, particularly for people with sleep apnea
  • increasing energy levels, allowing people with breathing difficulties to be more active

People with lung problems may be unable to filter oxygen from the air efficiently. Oxygen therapy provides air with a higher concentration of oxygen, helping the lungs send more oxygen around the body. In many cases, it can help prevent organ damage or failure.

While oxygen therapy does not cure the underlying cause of the breathing issues, it can help relieve some symptoms.

People can receive oxygen therapy in the following ways:

  • using a cannula and inserting its two end prongs inside the nostrils
  • wearing a face mask
  • undergoing a tracheotomy tube placement in the windpipe during surgery

Oxygen comes in liquid or gas form, which people store in metal cylinders that keep the gas or liquid under pressure.

A machine called an oxygen concentrator can also provide oxygen by extracting it from the air available in the room and purifying it.

People need to consider some safety precautions when undergoing oxygen therapy and storing oxygen. Oxygen can cause a fire to burn faster and stronger and even cause an explosion.

For this reason, people need to follow the below measures:

  • avoiding smoking in the vicinity of an oxygen tank
  • staying clear from flames, candles, fireplaces, or gas stoves when using oxygen therapy
  • securing oxygen tanks to a fixed object, making them stand upright to reduce the risk of rolling or cracking
  • keeping oxygen tanks clear from heathers, radiators, or other devices producing heat
  • wearing cotton clothes and using cotton bedding as cotton, as wool or synthetic materials can produce static electricity and sparks
  • keeping a fire extinguisher nearby
  • keeping oxygen canisters in a well-ventilated room

The outlook of people using oxygen therapy can vary depending on why they need additional oxygen. Some may use this therapy for a brief period while they recover from an illness, while others may need to undergo it permanently.

Long-term treatment is more likely for people with chronic health conditions.

Oxygen therapy is usually safe. However, a person always needs to follow the doctor’s instructions about how to use and store it.

Here are some common questions about oxygen therapy.

When is oxygen therapy necessary?

Oxygen therapy can help temporarily or permanently treat conditions such as COPD, pulmonary fibrosis, pneumonia, or sleep apnea. Doctors usually recommend it for people with low blood oxygen levels.

What is the most common oxygen therapy?

The most common oxygen therapy uses a nasal cannula that attaches to an oxygen therapy system, such as the bilevel positive airway pressure (BiPAP) or the continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) system.

What are the side effects of oxygen therapy?

Oxygen therapy is typically safe but may cause some side effects, such as morning headaches, nosebleeds, and fatigue.

Oxygen therapy provides oxygen to the body to help people who experience breathing issues due to a chronic condition or a temporary illness. It can help manage symptoms of cystic fibrosis, severe asthma, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

When oxygen levels in the blood are low, doctors prescribe oxygen therapy to increase them and reduce the risk of complications. Several types exist.

While oxygen therapy is safe, it may also cause side effects, including nosebleeds and headaches.