If your pulmonologist has said you may benefit from using supplemental oxygen, you might have some questions. If you picture yourself strapped to a large, bulky oxygen tank, you might also have a few concerns. But oxygen therapy can be easy to use and improve functioning and quality of life for people with pulmonary fibrosis.
How Oxygen Therapy Helps
We all need oxygen for our organs to function. When you have pulmonary fibrosis, the scarring of the lungs interferes with how efficiently oxygen gets into the bloodstream. The result may be a low oxygen level in the body. Low blood oxygen levels may cause symptoms such as shortness of breath, fatigue and rapid heart rate. Oxygen levels may especially decrease on exertion, which might cause some people to limit their activities.
Although supplemental oxygen does not improve lung tissue or reverse pulmonary fibrosis, it can increase the level of oxygen in the lungs and throughout the body. Improved oxygen levels may decrease breathlessness and improve functioning.
Using supplemental oxygen does not necessarily mean you are attached to an oxygen tank 24/7. Some people only need supplemental oxygen during exertion, such as when exercising or doing household chores. In other cases, oxygen levels may only be low during sleep, so your doctor will prescribe oxygen for overnight. If oxygen levels are always low, your doctors may prescribe oxygen around the clock.
Oxygen Therapy Delivery Options
Both oxygen cylinders and concentrators can be used at home. Patients who opt for a concentrator can choose between a continuous flow system or a pulse system. A continuous flow system delivers a steady flow of oxygen at a set rate. A pulse system delivers oxygen based on your breathing rate.
Oxygen for home use is usually delivered through a mask or nasal cannula. A cannula is a thin tube that consists of two prongs that are placed in the nostrils to deliver oxygen from a tank or concentrator.
Selecting the right equipment for your lifestyle and needs is essential. Your doctor will discuss options and help you determine what oxygen delivery system and equipment are best for you.
Home Oxygen Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
If you are going to be using home oxygen for the first time, you might have a few concerns. Remember, home oxygen does not have to change your lifestyle in a negative way or limit where you go. Consider some of the common questions and answers about using supplemental oxygen at home.
Can I travel with oxygen?
You can still travel when using supplemental oxygen. It might take a little more planning. If you are planning a short trip, a portable concentrator (device that makes oxygen) may be the right choice. If you are planning to spend many weeks at a different location you may choose to take your large home concentrator.
Ambulatory concentrators and tanks are available that typically weigh less than ten pounds. One of the goals of using home oxygen is to participate in as many of your normal activities as possible, and that includes traveling.
Are there side effects when using supplemental oxygen?
Oxygen can be drying to the nose. Some people, especially those who use high flow rates, may develop a dry nose or a headache. Nosebleeds are also possible. Many patients find that nasal saline spray (salty water) and humification of your oxygen when at home can help.
How will I know how much oxygen to use?
When your doctor determines you can benefit from home oxygen, you will be given a prescription for oxygen at a certain flow rate. You may also be told what oxygen saturation range your doctor wants you to maintain.
Can I adjust my oxygen flow rate?
Your doctor will prescribe a certain liter flow based on your oxygen levels. In some instances, your doctor may allow you to titrate or adjust the flow rate of oxygen depending on your oxygen levels. If this is the case, you need to have a pulse oximeter to measure oxygen levels at home.
MaryAnn DePietro, B.S. CRT is a medical writer and licensed respiratory therapist with over a decade of clinical experience. She earned degrees in both respiratory therapy and rehabilitation and currently works in a pulmonary rehabilitation program in California.