8 Common Myths about Oxygen Therapy

Myths – from where do they originate? In modern culture, myths are born out of obsolete misinformation and then perpetuated by word of mouth or with the simple click of a mouse. Sadly, oxygen therapy is not immune to myth; in today’s computer age, false information is abundant on the Internet. How can you separate myth from reality when it comes to oxygen therapy? By educating yourself with the following five fact-based truths, plus three more we recently discovered making the rounds.

Myth #1 – Oxygen is addictive.

TruthWhen the lungs are unable to meet the body’s demand for oxygen, oxygen concentration in the blood drops and less oxygen is delivered to the cells and tissues. Because supplemental oxygen increases the concentration of oxygen in the blood, using it satisfies the body’s demand for it. The belief that the more you use oxygen, the more you will become addicted to it is false. Addiction to alcohol or addictive drugs, like narcotics, is characterized by compulsive use, craving, loss of control and continued use. Supplemental oxygen is not like a narcotic; using it does not create an increased need for it. Although oxygen saturation may drop when supplemental oxygen is discontinued, it doesn’t mean you’re hooked on it; it only means that you’re unable to get enough oxygen from the air you breathe and you need a higher concentration of oxygen to maintain health and quality of life, and to prevent further complications.[1]

People also worry about how to wean off oxygen at home. If you are on oxygen therapy, you will only ever wean off oxygen under a doctor’s care and instruction. Patients are prescribed oxygen therapy to help improve their oxygen saturation. If the patient’s oxygen saturation indicates that they no longer require supplemental oxygen therapy, their doctor will slowly lower their oxygen concentration, and the amount of time they use supplemental oxygen, while monitoring their oxygen saturation. A patient will only discontinue use of medical oxygen if their oxygen saturation remains within healthy levels after weaning off their oxygen prescription. In most cases, doctors will continue to monitor patients’ oxygen saturation for some time after stopping oxygen therapy.[2]

It is important to note that you should not attempt to learn how to get off home oxygen without your doctor’s knowledge or help. Oxygen therapy is a medical treatment, and stopping any medical treatment should only take place under medical guidance.

Myth #2 – Oxygen always relieves shortness of breath.

TruthIn many instances, supplemental oxygen does relieve shortness of breath; in many cases it doesn’t. This is particularly true of COPD patients who lead a sedentary lifestyle. Persistent inactivity leads to muscle weakness and fatigue and impairs the body’s ability to utilize oxygen. When weak, tired muscles are called upon to perform any type of physical activity, shortness of breath worsens, sometimes to such a degree that supplemental oxygen can’t relieve it.[3] A regular exercise program can interrupt this vicious cycle and is an important part of managing the disease.

Myth #3 – Oxygen is flammable.

TruthThis is probably one of the most common misconceptions about supplemental oxygen. In truth, oxygen is combustible; not flammable. This means that materials burn more readily in its presence.[4] Because oxygen supports combustion, precautionary measures must be taken anytime it’s in use. For more information on how to use oxygen safety, refer to 7 Oxygen Safety Tips, brought to you by Inogen.

Myth #4 – All people with COPD eventually need oxygen.

Truth

Wrong again! COPD is a progressive disease in and of itself; smoking makes the progression that much faster. As smoking continues, more lung tissue is destroyed, lung function worsens and the risk of needing supplemental oxygen increases. Smoking cessation prevents excessive lung function decline in COPD and in some cases, even normalizes it.[5]

If smoking cessation occurs before lung damage is too extensive, supplemental oxygen may not be necessary, even in the presence of COPD.

Exercise is also an important component of COPD treatment. Many patients claim that implementing a daily exercise routine decreased their need for supplemental oxygen to such a degree, that they didn’t need it anymore. Refer to 11 Tips for Exercising with a Chronic Lung Condition for more information.

Myth #5 – Oxygen concentrators are big, heavy and embarrassing.

TruthLuckily, with the advent of the portable oxygen concentrator (POC), the days of big, heavy and embarrassing are over. At just 4.8 pounds, the Inogen One G3 is so light, that you can easily carry it with one hand or over your shoulder in a small carrying case. At only 8.75 inches long, 3 inches wide and 7.25 inches tall, the Inogen One G3 is equivalent in size to a 10.5 ounce bag of marshmallows. Smaller and lighter means you can throw embarrassment right out the window.

…More Oxygen Therapy Myths

Since this article was first published, we have seen even more myths circulating about oxygen therapy. As such, we wanted to update this list so we could demystify a few more of these potentially harmful myths and make sure you have the right information about oxygen therapy at your fingertips. Here are the latest myths, and the truth of the matter for each of them.

Myth #6 – If you need oxygen therapy, you will likely die soon. 

Truth – Needing oxygen therapy is not an indicator of your life expectancy. In fact, for people with severe hypoxemia and COPD, oxygen therapy actually increases survival and improves mortality.[6] Oxygen therapy should be thought of as a medical intervention, just like any other medication. It is understandable that a new medical oxygen therapy prescription can be unnerving, but it is in no way a reflection of your life expectancy. Your overall health is most likely to determine how long you live, and oxygen therapy can help improve your overall health. The use of oxygen therapy can actually improve your quality of life significantly, and it can allow you to participate more fully in your daily activities. If your doctor prescribes oxygen therapy to you or a loved one, remember that supplemental oxygen is ultimately a good thing. While it will require some small adjustments, oxygen therapy improves your oxygen saturation and can make many things, including sleep, exercise and even conversation, a lot easier for you. If you use a portable oxygen concentrator, those improvements are multiplied, as you will experience a number of different benefits. WIth your portable oxygen concentrator, like those from Inogen, you can enjoy benefits beyond increased survival, including increased exercise tolerance, improved mental alertness and mood, better stamina and better sleep.[7] 

Myth #7 – Traveling with oxygen just isn’t possible.

Truth – Traveling can be trickier with traditional or liquid oxygen tanks, but it is not impossible. With careful planning, you can travel with your oxygen tanks via train, car, bus or boat as long as you are able to bring a sufficient quantity with you and are able to carry or transport your tanks and store them safely. However, you cannot bring a compressed or liquid oxygen tank on board an airplane. If you use a portable oxygen concentrator, however, you are in luck, as you can travel by air with an FAA-approved portable oxygen concentrator. All of Inogen’s portable oxygen concentrators are FAA-approved, which makes traveling with them easy. Whether you intend to travel by plane, train, bus, boat or car, your Inogen portable oxygen concentrator can come right along with you. Just make sure you have extra batteries and a place to recharge when necessary, and you are all set for your trip. Additionally, because Inogen’s portable oxygen concentrators are so compact and lightweight, they are easy to carry with you, then fit easily under your seat or right next to you, so you don’t have to worry about finding a safe place to store them.

Myth #8 – I won’t be able to stay active while using supplemental oxygen.

Truth – For people who struggle with shortness of breath, exercise is actually one of the top treatment choices and is an essential part of pulmonary rehabilitation and overall lung health. Regular exercise can improve shortness of breath by increasing the strength of your respiratory muscles, and also makes your body more efficient at getting oxygen into the bloodstream.[8] The more you exercise, the greater your exercise tolerance, which means that continuing to exercise while using oxygen therapy will only benefit you. Moreover, when oxygen therapy is combined with exercise, your body will get even better access to the oxygen you need. In fact, one study showed that study participants experienced improved exercise duration with supplemental oxygen following pulmonary rehabilitation.[9] So, not only will you still be able to exercise while using supplemental oxygen, but continuing to exercise will actually improve the benefits of your oxygen therapy for you. You may need to adjust the way you exercise slightly while you use supplemental oxygen, but oxygen therapy should not impede your ability to continue exercising, and it may even make exercising easier for you overall.

Check out our Infographic to learn more about the history of oxygen concentrators.

Sources:

[1] “The Value of Home Oxygen Therapy for COPD Patients.” Johns Hopkins Health Alerts, Accessed 25 Nov. 2013.

[2] O’Driscoll, B R, et al. “British Thoracic Society Guideline for Oxygen Use in Adults in Healthcare and Emergency Settings.” BMJ Open Respiratory Research, vol. 4, no. 1, 2017, doi:10.1136/bmjresp-2016-000170.

[3] Kao, Andrew, et al. “Skeletal Muscle Dysfunction and Exercise Intolerance in Congestive Heart Failure.” 26 Jan. 2000.

[4] “Using Oxygen Safely.” American Lung Association, American Lung Association, www.lung.org/lung-health-diseases/lung-procedures-and-tests/oxygen-therapy/using-oxygen-safely.

[5] Willemse, B W M, et al. “The Impact of Smoking Cessation on Respiratory Symptoms, Lung Function, Airway Hyperresponsiveness and Inflammation.” The European Respiratory Journal, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Mar. 2004, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15065840.

[6] McDonald, Christine F. “Oxygen Therapy for COPD.” Journal of Thoracic Disease, Pioneer Bioscience Publishing Company, Nov. 2014, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4255164/.

[7] “Benefits of Small, Portable Oxygen Systems.” Inogen, Inogen, Inc., www.inogen.com/oxygen-therapy/portable-oxygen-benefits/.

[8] “Exercise and Lung Health.” American Lung Association, American Lung Association, 11 Mar. 2020, www.lung.org/lung-health-diseases/wellness/exercise-and-lung-health.

[9] Voduc, Nha, et al. “Effects of Oxygen on Exercise Duration in Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease Patients before and after Pulmonary Rehabilitation.” Canadian Respiratory Journal, Pulsus Group Inc, 2010, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2866201/.

Additional sources:

  • “Busting Myths about Oxygen Therapy.” National Jewish Health, National Jewish Health, Sept. 2017, www.nationaljewish.org/conditions/health-information/health-infographics/busting-myths-about-oxygen-therapy.

One thought on “8 Common Myths about Oxygen Therapy”

  1. Avatar novena says:

    Can oxygen give off a strange smell I have lung fibrosis and on the inogen one g2 for about a year but recently expericing problems with a strang smell it is like in my body?my urine and stool I want to rule out that it may be the oxygen I am on setting 3 for about most of the day

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