Oxygen Therapy
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Oxygen Therapy

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Oxygen therapy delivers supplemental oxygen to patients who have lung diseases or other health conditions that impair lung function and reduce the amount of oxygen that is transferred into the blood.

Lung Respiration

Lungs respiration

© 2008 Nucleus Medical Art, Inc.

Parts of the Body Involved

  • Lungs
  • Mouth
  • Nose

Reasons for Procedure

Oxygen therapy is required when a patient is not receiving enough oxygen, typically due to a health condition or injury. Some common causes of insufficient oxygen include:

  • Emphysema—long-term oxygen is thought to increase survival
  • Sarcoidosis
  • End-stage lung disease
  • Other chronic lung conditions
  • Some individuals have a condition in which their oxygen levels fall during sleep. This results in symptoms of sleeplessness, impaired thinking, fatigue, and restlessness. This is a condition where oxygen is prescribed.
  • Oxygen therapy is prescribed mainly when the blood oxygen level is less than or equal to 55 mmHG or the saturation of oxygen in the arterial blood is less than 88%.

Risk Factors for Complications During the Procedure

Oxygen therapy is a very safe procedure. The biggest risk factor is the risk of explosion. It is important to keep the oxygen supply away from open flames. Also, tobacco smoking is not acceptable around patients receiving oxygen.

What to Expect

Prior to Procedure

There are specific requirements that must be met before oxygen can be prescribed. Your doctor may need to check a sample of blood for the amount of oxygen in it. This is called an arterial blood gas.

A doctor will write a prescription for oxygen as needed. The prescription will include how much oxygen is required and when to administer it.


No anesthesia is administered prior to or during oxygen therapy.

Description of the Procedure

Oxygen therapy is most commonly administered via a face mask or a plastic tube, called a cannula, that is inserted into the nostrils. It can also be administered using an oxygen catheter, which consists of a thin tube placed in the neck so that oxygen can be directly transferred to the windpipe. This is called transtracheal oxygen therapy.

Oxygen systems are available in three forms: concentrators, compressed gas systems, and liquid systems. Concentrators are devices that plug into an electrical outlet and pull oxygen from the air. Available in a variety of portable sizes, compressed gas systems come in steel or aluminum cylindrical tanks. Liquid systems include both a large, stationary component and a smaller, portable component to carry oxygen.

After Procedure

After an oxygen therapy session is complete, the blood oxygen level will drop within a few minutes.

The amount of time that you will need to continue the oxygen therapy depends on the cause of the impaired lung function. People with respiratory infections may only need the therapy temporarily, while people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) may need to continue oxygen therapy permanently.

How Long Will It Take?

The length of time for which oxygen therapy is to be administered depends on the lung function. It can last from a few hours to 15 hours or more per day.

Will It Hurt?

The procedure is painless.

Possible Complications

If the oxygen container is exposed to an open flame, there is a risk of explosion.

Average Hospital Stay

Oxygen therapy does not require a hospital stay.

Postoperative Care

No surgery is required.


Prognosis is dependent upon the cause of the reduced lung function. Prognosis for people with COPD is poor, while prognosis for people with curable illnesses, like respiratory infection, is good.

Call Your Doctor If Any of the Following Occurs

  • Rapid breathing
  • Loss of appetite
  • Gray/blue tint around eyes, lips, and gums
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Limpness
  • Shortness of breath


American Lung Association

Children's Physician Network


Canadian Lung Association

Health Canada


American Lung Association website. Available at: http://www.lungusa.org/site/pp.asp?c=dvLUK9O0E&b=35697.

Bateman NT, Leach RM. ABC of oxygen. BMJ . 1998;317:798-801. Available at http://www.bmj.com/cgi/content/full/317/7161/798. Accessed February 28, 2007.

Bailey RE. Home oxygen therapy for treatment of patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Am Fam Physician . 2004;70(5). Available at http://www.aafp.org/afp/20040901/cochrane.html. Accessed February 28, 2007.

Last reviewed May 2008 by Rosalyn Carson-DeWitt, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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