Oxygen therapy is a medical therapy prescribed to patients with interstitial lung disease (pulmonary fibrosis), cystic fibrosis, obstructive sleep apnea, pulmonary hypertension, congestive heart failure, cardiopulmonary disease (i.e. COPD), and associated hypoxemia (low blood oxygen). And the demand for long-term oxygen therapy for adult patients is on the rise in order to improve cognitive function, energy, and overall quality of life for patients while decreasing their frequency of hospitalization.
When it comes to prescribing supplemental oxygen therapy, doctors take several things into consideration to determine the dosage of supplemental oxygen required to prevent any further complications associated with chronic hypoxemia (i.e., headache, shortness of breath, anxiety, heart palpitations, fatigue):
- The condition causing hypoxemia (i.e., COPD, etc.)
- Patient’s oxygen usage (i.e., during sleep, continuously, or following exercise)
- Oxygen flow rate, prescribed in liters
- The recommended oxygen delivery device
Oxygen can be delivered via an oxygen concentrator, compressed oxygen gas, or liquid oxygen, here a the details on each:
1. Oxygen concentrators
The most efficient, reliable, and inexpensive oxygen therapy device is an oxygen concentrator. This device hooks directly into a home’s electricity, and works to extract nitrogen from the air in order to deliver 95% pure oxygen to the patient via a nasal cannula (or thin tube that’s outfitted with nostril nozzles). Oxygen concentrators are often loud and disturb sleep so many providers recommend installation in room adjacent to the patient’s bedroom. These devices do require a backup generator in case of a power failure, and demand regular service and filter changes to keep them in efficient working order. For away from home and emergency use, patients can use their main concentrator unit to fill a 10-pound portable oxygen tank that can be transported via a shoulder strap or wheeled cart.
2. Compressed oxygen gas
Many patients prefer the installation of a large gas cylinder for their supplemental oxygen source. These compressed gas cylinders, or “H tanks” are installed in the home, away from a heat or petroleum source, and are refilled and replaced as guidelines require. Smaller portable units (or “E” tanks) provide portability away from home.
3. Liquid-oxygen systems
A most expensive oxygen device is a liquid-oxygen system, which work by cooling oxygen down to -183-degrees celsius and compressing it into liquid form. These oxygen systems although large are considered convenient thanks to the accompanying portable units, which can be easily filled with liquid oxygen from the main source and taken with you on errands and social outings with the use of a wheely cart or shoulder strap.