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What Is Long-Term Oxygen Therapy?

Tanks of oxygen for long-term oxygen therapy.
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  • Written By: Marlene Garcia
  • Edited By: Daniel Lindley
  • Last Modified Date: 24 October 2014
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Long-term oxygen therapy uses stationary or portable devices to deliver oxygen to patients with breathing problems. Three types of long-term oxygen therapy devices include refillable compressed gas cylinders, liquid oxygen equipment, and oxygen concentrators that use electricity to convert room air into usable oxygen. Some patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) use long-term oxygen therapy to prolong life.

This medical intervention might allow patients to improve their quality of life and remain more active. Some patients report it eases depression caused by disorders that restrict breathing. Even so, long-term oxygen therapy might present emotional, physical, and psychological challenges for patients who find it difficult to use the equipment.

Studies show some patients find nasal cannulas used in long-term oxygen therapy uncomfortable, making users less likely to adhere to prescribed treatment. Others might feel embarrassed when using portable oxygen tanks in public, or find they limit usual activities. Patients using oxygen concentrators at home might also object to limited movement while connected to the machine.

According to research, not all patients suffering COPD benefit from long-term oxygen therapy, especially people with mild or moderate breathing trouble. Scientists found oxygen therapy did not extend life for some patients in these categories. In fact, this therapy might worsen inflammation associated with COPD by creating oxidative stress.

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Compressed gas cylinders store oxygen in tanks under pressure. They are typically delivered to a patient’s home for occasional use when it becomes hard to breathe due to exertion. This form of long-term oxygen therapy might require frequent tank refills and pose a risk of fire or explosion if the patient smokes. They might not be allowed on airplanes.

Liquid oxygen cylinders include small containers, which can be filled at home from larger devices that convert oxygen to a liquid under extremely cold temperature. This form of therapy is considered the most costly because oxygen might evaporate quickly from the larger tank, requiring frequent refills. The equipment might be difficult for some patients to use, especially the elderly.

Oxygen concentrators plug into a standard home outlet to isolate oxygen in the air. The flow rate can be adjusted to the level needed by the patient. These machines do not require refills and supply a steady source of oxygen. Some battery-operated oxygen concentrators might be permitted on commercial airliners. This equipment might represent the least costly method of long-term oxygen therapy.

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