Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a chronic respiratory condition that affects millions of people worldwide. COPD causes the bronchial airways to become inflamed and narrowed, making it difficult to breathe. It can also damage the small air sacs (alveoli) at the end of the air tubes that are responsible for transferring oxygen from air into the blood and remove carbon dioxide. In some cases, people with COPD may need supplemental oxygen to maintain adequate oxygen levels in their blood. In this blog post, we will discuss supplemental oxygen for individuals with COPD, including who may benefit, how it is administered, and potential risks.
Who Needs Supplemental Oxygen for COPD?
Supplemental oxygen may be necessary for individuals with COPD who have low levels of oxygen in their blood, a condition known as hypoxemia. Hypoxemia can cause shortness of breath, fatigue, confusion, and headaches. If not treated, hypoxemia can lead to heart failure, respiratory failure, and even death.
Supplemental oxygen may also be necessary for individuals with COPD who experience chronic respiratory failure, a condition in which the lungs are unable to provide enough oxygen to the body even at rest.
The level of oxygen in the blood is commonly measured using a finger oximeter. It uses a special light to measure the oxygen saturation (SpO2). A normal SpO2 is 95% or higher. New medical evidence suggests that SpO2 measurement can be inaccurate in active smokers and in individuals with darker skin pigmentation. In those cases, more precise measurement of blood oxygen levels is achieved by obtaining a blood sample from an artery in the wrist. The current guidelines suggest that people with COPD may need supplemental oxygen if their SpO2 level is less 88% while resting. In people who also have heart failure or pulmonary hypertension (high blood pressures in the lungs), they should use supplemental oxygen if their SpO2 level while resting is less than 90%.
When we walk or do any activities, our body needs more oxygen. In people with COPD or other lung diseases, their lungs may not be able to keep up with this extra demand. Hence the SpO2 levels can drop low during activities.
The guidelines about when supplemental oxygen should be prescribed are updated based new research in medical science. It's important for you to consult your doctor to know if supplemental oxygen is needed for you.
How is Supplemental Oxygen Administered for COPD?
Supplemental oxygen for COPD can be administered in several ways, including:
Nasal cannula: This is a device that fits over the person's nose and delivers oxygen directly into their airway. It is the most common way of using supplemental oxygen and is usually used for individuals with mild to moderate hypoxemia (low levels of oxygen). Most people who use oxygen at home and in their daily life use a nasal cannula.
Face mask: A face mask covers the person's nose and mouth and delivers oxygen directly into their airway. It may be used if the person requires a higher concentration of oxygen, typically for those with severe hypoxemia or during exacerbations.
Venturi mask: This is a type of face mask that delivers a precise amount of oxygen at a specific flow rate. It is often used in hospitals for individuals with COPD exacerbations.
Supplemental oxygen at home is often provided by an oxygen concentrator, a machine that pulls oxygen from the air and delivers it to the person through a nasal cannula or face mask. It is typically used for individuals who require oxygen at home for extended periods.
What are the Benefits of Supplemental Oxygen for COPD?
Supplemental oxygen can provide several benefits for individuals with COPD, including:
- Improved oxygen levels, helping maintain adequate oxygen levels in the blood, which can alleviate symptoms such as shortness of breath, fatigue, and confusion.
- Improved quality of life, improving energy levels and increasing the ability to perform daily activities, which can lead to an improved quality of life.
- Reduced risk of complications such as heart failure, respiratory failure, and death.
What are the Risks of Supplemental Oxygen for COPD?
While supplemental oxygen is generally safe, it can pose some risks if not used correctly. These include:
Oxygen toxicity: This is a condition that can occur if a person receives too much oxygen for an extended period of time. It can cause lung damage and other complications.
Carbon dioxide retention: In some cases, supplemental oxygen can cause carbon dioxide retention, which can lead to respiratory failure.
Risk of fire: Oxygen can lower the combustion temperature and accelerate burning. Facial and clothing fires have occurred with supplemental oxygen. Be extra careful or turn off your oxygen if there is an open flame nearby such as a gas burner, cigarette, or lighter.
It is important to use supplemental oxygen as directed by a healthcare provider and to follow all safety guidelines.
In conclusion, supplemental oxygen is a valuable treatment option for individuals with COPD who have low levels of oxygen in their blood or chronic respiratory failure. If you or a loved one has COPD and may benefit from supplemental oxygen, talk to a healthcare provider to determine the appropriate course of treatment.