The Benefits of Oxygen Therapy

8 Reasons to Use Supplemental Oxygen to Treat COPD

Despite the many health benefits of long-term oxygen therapy (LTOT), studies suggest that not enough people stick with the treatment. In patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), this can present significant barriers to care.

Reasons for Non-Compliance With Oxygen Therapy

If you or a loved one are non-compliant with your oxygen treatment, you may have one or all of the following reasons:

  • It seems difficult to use
  • You feel self-conscious or you feel like there's a sense of social stigma
  • You don't really understand how it's beneficial
  • You're worried about accompanying side effects

If this sounds familiar and you're not using your supplemental oxygen as prescribed, recognizing the benefits of oxygen therapy, rather than focusing on the negative aspects, may help you overcome your obstacles for the betterment of your health.

Here's a closer look at the benefits of long-term oxygen therapy for COPD:

Increased Survival

Oxygen Therapy. BSIP/ Getty Images

By far, the most important benefit of LTOT for people with COPD is that it prolongs your life if you have more severe resting hypoxemia (low levels of oxygen in your blood). This benefit is especially true if you use oxygen continuously rather than just at night or sporadically, though getting some supplemental oxygen is better than none.

Despite this evidence, studies show that the average number of hours that a patient uses daily supplemental oxygen is typically less than what the doctor has prescribed. When you don't use your oxygen as prescribed, this limits its effectiveness.

If you've been prescribed LTOT, it's important for you to recognize when you're not in compliance with your current oxygen treatment program and to discuss possible alternative oxygen delivery strategies with your healthcare provider.

If you have less severe resting hypoxemia, oxygen will likely help other aspects of your COPD, but studies have shown that it doesn't necessarily extend your life.

Reduced COPD Complications

COPD is associated with a number of complications that can significantly impact your quality of life, including pulmonary hypertension, secondary polycythemia, and cor pulmonale, a form of heart failure.

Supplemental oxygen helps reduce COPD complications by stabilizing pulmonary hypertension, reducing secondary polycythemia, and decreasing arrhythmias (irregular heart rhythms) and ECG findings that suggest myocardial ischemia (a lack of oxygen to the heart).

Additionally, according to the American Lung Association, oxygen therapy helps prevent heart failure in people who have severe lung diseases like COPD.

Lessened COPD Symptoms

Dyspnea, or shortness of breath, is not only the hallmark symptom of COPD, it's also the most disabling and difficult to control.

Supplemental oxygen can help relieve dyspnea and other symptoms related to COPD, including fatigue, dizziness, and depression.

Improved Health-Related Quality of Life

When you don't get an adequate supply of oxygen, every organ in your body is affected, which eventually takes a toll on your health and well-being.

Using supplemental oxygen has a positive impact on your health-related quality of life. Not only does it improve your sleep and mood, it also increases your mental alertness and stamina, allowing you to get more done during the day.

Moreover, oxygen has been shown to reduce the number of exacerbations (worsening of symptoms) and hospitalizations associated with COPD.

Increased Exercise Tolerance

Exercise is one of the most important aspects of COPD management. In fact, a regular physical training program can increase your survival and improve the quality of your life with COPD.

Many patients with COPD, however, have poor exercise tolerance that dramatically limits their ability to exercise. Studies suggest that using oxygen during exercise improves exercise endurance, heightens exercise performance, and ultimately decreases the sensation of breathlessness.

Improved Sex Life

Research is not clear as to whether oxygen therapy can help sexual difficulties such as impotence, but if supplemental oxygen helps you during exercise, chances are good it'll help you breathe easier during sex too.

Additionally, using supplemental oxygen during sex can help you prolong intimacy, an added benefit for both partners. Talk to your doctor about increasing your oxygen flow during sex.

Safer Air Travel

It's not uncommon for patients with COPD to experience severe hypoxemia when they travel by airplane.

Supplemental oxygen during air travel helps you prevent severe hypoxemia and can benefit many COPD patients, even those who don't normally use oxygen.

If you experience severe COPD symptoms when you travel, talk to your healthcare provider about using supplemental oxygen when you fly.

Improved Social Life

How many times has COPD interfered with your social life? If breathlessness prevents you from enjoying a movie or dinner invitation, maybe it's time you look into using supplemental oxygen by way of a portable oxygen concentrator.

Extremely lightweight and compact, portable oxygen concentrators are much more versatile than their home-based counterparts, allowing you freedom and independence to go about your business in the usual fashion. And many are paid for by Medicare.

If COPD often puts a damper on your plans, talk to your healthcare provider about going portable.

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