The Benefits of Oxygen Therapy

If you have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or another condition that impairs your lung function, you might not efficiently absorb oxygen when you breathe.

The air we breathe contains approximately 21 percent oxygen. For most people with healthy lungs, 21 percent oxygen is sufficient to support the body's needs. But with severe lung disease, it may be necessary to breathe in a higher concentration of oxygen in order to get an adequate oxygen supply into the body.

If you are oxygen deficient due to COPD or another lung disease, chances are you won't notice your deficiency yourself. Your healthcare provider can administer certain tests for you to determine whether you need oxygen therapy to maintain your energy and health, and to avoid complications of COPD, such as heart disease.

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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Getting Prescribed Supplemental Oxygen

Oxygen therapy is a medical treatment that requires a prescription from a healthcare provider. Your healthcare provider may prescribe a range of oxygen flow rates for different activities, such as during rest, sleep, or exercise.

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. 

You can also use devices that measure oxygen levels at home. Your doctor might recommend that you measure your oxygen levels using a home pulse oximeter so you can track your oxygen levels. Based on the trends in these readings, your healthcare provider might make changes in your medications or your oxygen therapy.

Some people only need oxygen therapy while sleeping or with exercise, while others may need it 24 hours a day. It is very important that you follow your settings exactly as prescribed—using too much or too little can have serious consequences.

The Benefits of Oxygen Therapy

Supplemental oxygen therapy helps prevent heart failure in people who have severe lung diseases. Some studies have shown an increase in survival rates in COPD patients who use oxygen for longer than 15 hours a day.

According to the American Lung Association, the use of supplemental oxygen for severe lung disease improves sleep, mood, mental alertness, stamina, and allows individuals who have certain types of lung disease 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: 

  • If you are using supplemental oxygen, you should be at least five feet away from all heat sources. 
  • Use caution around open flames like matches and candles as well as gas heaters and stoves.
  • Do not smoke while using your oxygen or while near your oxygen supply.
  • Stay away from smokers when you using or near your oxygen supply.
  • Turn off the oxygen supply valves when not in use.
  • Always follow any instructions provided to you regarding safe usage.

It may help to post "No Smoking" signs around your home or at work to remind visitors not to smoke near you or your oxygen.

In case of an emergency, make sure you have backup equipment, oxygen, and a generator. 

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.

By Deborah Leader, RN
 Deborah Leader RN, PHN, is a registered nurse and medical writer who focuses on COPD.