The Benefits of Oxygen Therapy

Oxygen is a basic human need, without it, we would not survive. The air we breathe contains approximately 21 percent oxygen. For most people with healthy lungs, 21 percent oxygen is sufficient, but if you have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or a condition where your lung function is impaired, the amount of oxygen obtained through normal breathing is not enough. In this case, you'll need supplemental amounts of oxygen to maintain normal body function.

What is the partial pressure of oxygen (PaO2), how does it compare to oxygen saturation (PaO2), and why is it important in medicine?
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If you need supplemental oxygen, chances are you won't notice your defiency yourself. Your healthcare provider will likely be the one who notices you aren't getting enough oxygen, after testing. 

Getting Prescribed Supplemental Oxygen

Oxygen therapy is a medical treatment that requires a prescription from a healthcare provider to use it. Your healthcare provider may prescribe a range of oxygen flow rates for different activities, such as during rest, sleep or exercise. Some people only require oxygen therapy while sleeping, while others may require it 24 hours a day. The amount and duration of oxygen therapy will depend on the recommendation of your healthcare provider. It is very important that you follow the settings exactly as prescribed, as using too much or too little can have serious consequences.

Your healthcare provider can measure the oxygen levels in your blood by obtaining an arterial blood gas (ABG) or by using a noninvasive device called a ​pulse oximeter. According to the American Thoracic Society, the general goal of treatment is to keep your oxygen levels usually at, or above, 88 percent. 

The Benefits of Oxygen Therapy

In addition to helping prevent heart failure in people with severe lung diseases, such as COPD, supplemental oxygen has many benefits. Some studies have shown an increase in survival rates in patients who use oxygen more than 15 hours a day. According to the American Lung Association, supplemental oxygen improves sleep, mood, mental alertness, stamina, and allows individuals to carry out normal, everyday functions. 

Using Oxygen Safely

Although oxygen is a safe, nonflammable gas, it supports combustion, meaning materials burn more readily in its presence. It is very important to follow general oxygen safety guidelines if you are planning to use, or be around supplemental oxygen. Some helpful tips to follow include: 

  • Post "No Smoking" signs around your home to remind visitors not to smoke near you or your oxygen.
  • Use caution around open flames like matches and candles as well as gas heaters and stoves. If you are using supplemental oxygen, you should be at least five feet away from all heat sources. 
  • Turn off the oxygen supply valves when not in use.
  • Always follow any instructions provided to you regarding safe usage.
  • In case of an emergency, make sure you have backup equipment, oxygen, and a generator. 
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3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Hatipoğlu U, Stoller JK. Supplemental oxygen in patients with stable chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: evidence from Nocturnal Oxygen Treatment Trial to Long-term Oxygen Treatment Trial. Curr Opin Pulm Med. 2018;24(2):179-186. doi:10.1097/MCP.0000000000000461

  2. Qaseem A, Wilt TJ, Weinberger SE, et al. Diagnosis and management of stable chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: a clinical practice guideline update from the American College of Physicians, American College of Chest Physicians, American Thoracic Society, and European Respiratory Society. Ann Intern Med. 2011;155(3):179-91. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-155-3-201108020-00008

  3. Ahmadi Z, Sundh J, Bornefalk-hermansson A, Ekström M. Long-Term Oxygen Therapy 24 vs 15 h/day and Mortality in Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. PLoS ONE. 2016;11(9):e0163293. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0163293

Additional Reading
  • American Lung Association Oxygen Therapy Fact Sheet. 2013.