Health Conditions that Benefit from Oxygen Therapy

Anatomy of LungsOxygen…in most instances, you simply inhale and it flows in gently from the ambient air through your nose, down into your lungs where it diffuses into your bloodstream without a second thought. When a short-term (acute) or ongoing (chronic) illness happens along the way to interfere with this process, the oxygen level in the blood falls below normal and supplemental oxygen is needed to restore the body to normal functioning.

The respiratory system is made up of a group of organs and tissues that help you breathe. Diseases and conditions of the respiratory system can be caused by genetics or environmental exposure to irritating stimuli, like tobacco smoke or air pollution. In some cases, the cause of a respiratory disease is unknown.

Acute Conditions that Benefit from Oxygen Therapy

Acute conditions that cause your oxygen level to drop usually occur abruptly and clear up after treatment. Oftentimes, once you’ve recovered from the illness, supplemental oxygen is no longer necessary and can be discontinued.

Your doctor may prescribe supplemental oxygen for the following acute conditions:

  • Pneumonia – Pneumonia is an infection in one or both of the lungs. It can be caused by a virus, bacteria or fungi. When pneumonia is severe enough, the air sacs in the lungs become inflamed and fill with fluid or pus. This makes it difficult for oxygen to reach the bloodstream.
  • Severe asthma attack – Asthma is a lung disease that causes the air tubes in the lungs to become inflamed and narrow. When the air tubes constrict, less oxygen taken in from the surrounding air is able to reach the lungs. In most cases, asthma can be managed without oxygen, but during an acute asthma attack, oxygen therapy may be necessary.
  • Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) – ARDS is a lung condition that causes low oxygen levels in the blood. Most of the time, other illnesses, such as pneumonia or severe bleeding from an injury, lead to ARDS. ARDS is treated with oxygen therapy, medication and fluids.

Chronic Conditions that Benefit from Oxygen Therapy

Some health conditions, such as the ones described below, are long-term and may require intermittent or continuous oxygen therapy:

  • COPD – COPD stands for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. The two most common forms of COPD are emphysema and chronic bronchitis. COPD is a progressive illness, meaning it gets worse over time. The disease causes damage to the air tubes and air sacs, preventing oxygen from moving from the lungs into the bloodstream.
  • Heart failure – Normally, blood is filled with oxygen that nourishes the cells and tissues of the body. When heart failure occurs, the heart is unable to pump enough oxygen-enriched blood to meet the body’s demand. This leads to low oxygen in the blood and the need for oxygen therapy.
  • Cystic fibrosis (CF) – CF is a hereditary disease of the glands that produce mucus and sweat. People with CF have an abnormal amount of thick, sticky mucus that builds up in their air tubes, increasing the risk of infection. Repeated infections can seriously damage the lungs, making oxygen therapy necessary.
  • Sleep-related breathing disorders – Certain conditions, such as sleep apnea and transient nocturnal desaturation, cause the oxygen level in the blood to drop only during sleep. When this happens, supplemental oxygen is sometimes delivered through a special mask that stays on during the night to help prevent oxygen levels from dropping during sleep.


Author: Deborah Leader RN, BSN, PHN


Source: National Institutes of Health. Who Needs Oxygen Therapy? February 24, 2012.


Image: Flickr, liverpoolhls, Anatomy of the lungs

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