If you have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), your airways may be inflamed. It may be hard to take deep breaths and get enough oxygen.

Depending on the severity of your COPD, oxygen therapy can be an effective way to increase the amount of oxygen in your body in order to meet your body’s needs.

Oxygen therapy provides supplemental oxygen flows, often for people with chronic lung conditions. It is the use of oxygen as a medical treatment.

Oxygen therapy is often administered in a hospital or by a medical professional, but there are options to use oxygen therapy at home.

COPD is a chronic, progressive lung disease that makes it more difficult to breathe, which means people with COPD are not getting enough oxygen into their lungs and bloodstream. Difficulty breathing can make it hard to perform daily tasks and result in reduced quality of life for people with COPD.

When you breathe, oxygen gets sent into the bloodstream and cells, which keeps your body working as it should. With COPD and other lung conditions, it is difficult for oxygen to get distributed throughout your body.

Not getting enough oxygen can cause hypoxemia. Hypoxemia is when oxygen levels in the blood are lower than what is typical, specifically in the arteries. There is also a risk of hypoxia, which is when oxygen levels are low in your tissues.

Oxygen therapy can help decrease shortness of breath or a feeling of breathlessness in people with severe hypoxemia.

Oxygen therapy works by giving additional oxygen to the lungs to give the body the amount it needs. This can be performed continuously or on an as-needed basis.

Some people might need additional oxygen following exercise, during travel, or while sleeping.

If you are not getting enough oxygen, supplemental oxygen can help you stay active, help your body function, and in some cases, help you live longer. Long-term oxygen therapy may improve quality of life and can increase survival rates for people with severe hypoxemia.

Oxygen is administered through tubes that connect to your nose, through a face mask, or via a tube in your windpipe. The right type of oxygen therapy for you will depend on how much oxygen you need and your daily routine.

Options for delivering oxygen at home include:

  • Compressed oxygen: Oxygen is compressed and stored in cylinders at high pressure.
  • Oxygen concentrator: Air is drawn into the device, other gases are removed, and oxygen is saved. This is different from other devices, which store oxygen. Oxygen concentrators filter oxygen from the air. These require a source of power in order to work.
  • Liquid oxygen: This is also stored in a tank. The oxygen’s liquid form means that more oxygen can fit into a certain amount of space.

These options can also be used as portable devices when performing daily tasks outside the home, attending appointments, or traveling.

Portable compressed oxygen can be difficult to manage. The tanks can be heavy, and you need to carry them around. However, they are typically the most affordable option.

Some people with COPD who need to travel with compressed oxygen might place the canister on a wheeled platform to help them manage and navigate more easily.

Since oxygen concentrators need a source of power, portable oxygen concentrators work off of chargeable batteries to produce a flow of oxygen. These devices either work depending on your breathing rate (pulse dose oxygen delivery) or at a constant rate (continuous flow).

Portable liquid oxygen containers are more compact and lightweight. This can be an expensive option, and it is hard to find liquid oxygen refills. Additionally, the containers themselves are expensive because liquid oxygen has to be stored at a low temperature.

If you have COPD, you may need oxygen therapy depending on the levels of oxygen in your blood.

If you experience shortness of breath from low blood oxygen levels, often caused by exertion from exercise or travel, you may need oxygen therapy to get you back up to a stable place.

Tests can be done to determine, if, why, or when you need supplemental oxygen.

An oximetry test can be performed to determine the levels of oxygen in your blood, and an arterial blood gas test can be performed to find the levels of both oxygen and carbon dioxide in your blood.

When you breathe, your lungs should filter out carbon dioxide and send oxygen into the bloodstream. With COPD and other conditions that affect the lungs, it is difficult for carbon dioxide to get filtered out. Your doctor may use the arterial blood gas test to determine if your lungs are functioning properly.

Based on these results, you might need long-term oxygen therapy, or you may only need supplemental oxygen on occasion. Your medical history, physical exam, and other underlying factors can also play a role in determining if supplemental oxygen is needed. Talk with your doctor to find out what is best for you.

With COPD, the airways are constricted. This makes it more difficult for the lungs to work as they should and send oxygen into the bloodstream.

Supplemental oxygen helps by sending more oxygen into the bloodstream. This can help relieve shortness of breath and improve your overall quality of life.

Oxygen therapy is generally safe. However, some side effects include:

  • dry nasal passages
  • nosebleeds
  • headaches
  • skin irritation

Additionally, oxygen tanks are flammable, so it is important to keep them away from anything that might start or catch fire and to avoid smoking.

If you have COPD, oxygen therapy can help you increase the amount of oxygen in your blood and help you breathe.

Oxygen therapy can be administered in a hospital setting, at home, or on the go.

Depending on the amount of oxygen in your blood, you may benefit from long-term oxygen therapy or occasional doses of supplemental oxygen.

Talk with your doctor to find out if oxygen therapy is the right choice for your COPD treatment journey.