AMARILLO — More people are using oxygen therapy outside the hospital, permitting them to lead more active, productive lives, said a Texas Cooperative Extension specialist.
For people with lung disease or other conditions which affect breathing, supplemental oxygen may be an essential part of their lives, said Andrew Crocker, Extension program specialist in gerontology health.
The body’s cells need oxygen to function properly, he said. The body constantly takes in oxygen and releases carbon dioxide, a process called respiration.
“If this process does not happen adequately, the oxygen in the blood will decrease and you may need supplemental oxygen,” Crocker said.
Lung diseases such as emphysema and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease may affect breathing and necessitate oxygen therapy, he said.
Additionally, if the lungs are not completely emptied when exhaling, the body won’t be able to inhale enough air to get the needed oxygen, Crocker said. This condition may also necessitate oxygen therapy.
“This condition is very common for older adults who have suffered an injury, such as a broken hip, or are confined to a bed or chair,” he said.
Home oxygen therapy is available in several forms, but the two most common are compressed oxygen gas and liquid oxygen, Crocker said. Compressed oxygen is stored in tanks or cylinders of steel or aluminum. Liquid oxygen is made by cooling the gas, which changes it to a liquid form.
Liquid oxygen is often used by people who are more active because larger amounts of oxygen can be stored in smaller, more convenient containers, he said.
Oxygen at high levels over a long period of time can be toxic and harmful; therefore, a prescription from a health professional is required, Crocker said.
The prescription will spell out the flow rate, amount of oxygen needed per minute and when to use oxygen, he said.
“Some people use oxygen therapy only while exercising, others only while sleeping and still others need oxygen continuously,” Crocker said. “Your health provider will order a blood test that will indicate what your oxygen level is and help determine what your needs are.”
Two of the most common delivery methods for oxygen therapy are:
– Nasal Cannula. A two-pronged device inserted in the nostrils that is connected to tubing carrying the oxygen. The tubing can rest on the ears or be attached to the frame of eyeglasses.
– Mask. For use when a high flow of oxygen is needed. Some people who use a nasal cannula during the day prefer a mask at night or when they have colds.
Traveling by air may be a problem for people using supplemental oxygen, Crocker said. Commercial air carriers’ policies regarding in-flight oxygen vary, leading to confusion for travelers.
“Most airlines require a letter on your health provider’s letterhead with his or her name and contact information, your specific underlying lung condition, approval for air travel and verification of need for in-flight oxygen,” he said.
“It is important to be aware that airlines do not provide oxygen for ground use, so plan enough for layovers, weather delays and the like,” Crocker said. “Check with the particular airline you intend to fly regarding their specific policy.”
Travel by land has fewer restrictions, but patients should still talk with their health provider about the altitudes on the trip, he said. The flow rate prescription may need to be adjusted if travel includes a very different altitude.
“Oxygen is safe and non-flammable; however, it supports combustion materials burn more readily in an oxygen-enriched environment so use caution when on oxygen therapy,” Crocker warned.
Do not store oxygen in the trunk of a car where it can get hot, he said. Also, because oxygen containers release small amounts of gas periodically, keep a window partially open, regardless of the weather.
Other safety tips for supplemental oxygen users from the American Lung Association include:
– Never smoke while using oxygen and warn visitors not to smoke while oxygen is in use.
– Stay at least 5 feet away from gas stoves, candles, lighted fireplaces or other heat sources.
– Make sure the oxygen cylinder is secured to some fixed object or in a stand.
– Make sure liquid oxygen vessels are kept upright to keep the oxygen from pouring out; the liquid oxygen is so cold it can hurt skin.
– Keep a fire extinguisher close by and let the fire department know there is oxygen in your home.
For more information, go to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute’s website: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov .