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What Is Oxygen Therapy?

Oxygen being supplied to a patient with an oxygen mask.
Tanks of oxygen for oxygen therapy.
Article Details
  • Written By: M. DePietro
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 25 June 2014
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    Conjecture Corporation
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Oxygen therapy is the use of supplemental oxygen usually delivered straight to the lungs. Air we breathe in the atmosphere contains 21 percent oxygen. People with various medical conditions, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), often need supplemental or extra oxygen.

When breathing problems occur, the level of oxygen in the lungs may decrease. This decreases the amount of oxygen which is delivered through the bloodstream to the vital organs in the body, such as the brain. Oxygen therapy may be given to help prevent complications associated with low blood oxygen levels.

Because medical oxygen is considered a drug, a prescription from a physician is required. Oxygen is delivered in liters per minute and the prescription will specify the amount of oxygen to be given. Prescriptions will also state if oxygen is needed continuously or only while sleeping, when oxygen levels may decrease.

There are several devices to administer oxygen. The most commonly used devices include a nasal cannula or oxygen mask. A nasal cannula is placed into the nostrils and can be used with oxygen amounts up to six liters per minute. People who have higher oxygen requirements will need to use an oxygen mask.

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Although oxygen is often used in the hospital, home oxygen therapy can also be given in several different ways. Liquid oxygen, oxygen cylinders and compressed oxygen are all devices which can be used at home. Safety conditions should be kept in mind when using oxygen. Oxygen should not be used around a fireplace or a gas stove, as it can increase the intensity and make something burn faster if it catches on fire. The amount of oxygen delivered should not be increased without talking with your doctor first. Too much oxygen can cause problems in patients with certain respiratory conditions.

In addition to delivering oxygen to the lungs, oxygen is also sometimes delivered to the entire body in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber. The chamber is pressurized and allows greater levels of oxygen to be delivered to the body. This type of oxygen therapy can be used to treat various conditions including severe wounds, burns, and bone injuries.

Several sessions of hyperbaric oxygen therapy are usually needed depending on the condition being treated. It is usually given over the course of several days or weeks. Although the use of a hyperbaric oxygen chamber is considered safe, side effects can occur. Most commonly, pain in the ears occurs due to the pressurized chamber.

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