When is Oxygen Therapy Right for Seniors?

oxygen therapy

By the time your doctor tells you that oxygen therapy is the best course of action for you, you probably already suspected that was the case. Receiving oxygen therapy, either temporarily or long-term, can make it much easier to live with a wide variety of conditions, including COPD, pneumonia, pulmonary fibrosis, sleep apnea, asthma, COVID 19, and more.

You may be familiar with oxygen therapy in a hospital setting. If you have ever been hospitalized, known someone who was, or have even seen a movie scene set in a hospital, you’ve likely seen the nasal prongs, also known as an oxygen cannula, that patients sometimes wear to deliver more oxygen to their airway. Sometimes you might see someone wearing a face mask that can provide even more oxygen. Those masks can attach to other types of medical equipment, such as ventilators.

If you aren’t getting enough oxygen, you can quickly become very fatigued. You might suffer from a severe lack of sleep. You might find yourself so short of breath that it’s hard to function. Your energy levels can drop so severely that the basic activities of daily living, such as bathing and dressing, can make you feel as though you’ve run a marathon.

If you’re feeling any of these symptoms, it’s definitely time to ask your doctor about oxygen therapy. But it’s also a good idea to be proactive with a medical alert pendant. Fatigue and lack of sleep both significantly increase your risk of falls or accidents. An emergency response solution at your fingertips can help alleviate the worry about suffering a fall or other accident that could make your condition worse.

How Oxygen Works in the Body

When you breathe in air, your lungs filter the oxygen out during every breath. That oxygen fills the lungs and then is sent through the blood vessels. It reaches your tissues and organs, providing them with the oxygen they need to function properly. This process happens almost instantaneously with every breath you take in.

If you have problems with your lungs, the amount of oxygen you get from the air is diminished. As a result, your body doesn’t work as well as it should. That leads to a host of problems, including:

·         Serious fatigue

·         Shortness of breath

·         Coughing or wheezing

·         A higher heart rate and pulse

·         A bluish tint to the lips, nails, and skin

·         Headaches

·         Confusion

And sometimes, there can be few symptoms at all. This might be especially true if you have suffered from low oxygen for a long time and your body has adjusted somewhat to the lack of it.

A low level of oxygen is called hypoxemia. The longer hypoxemia lasts, the more dangerous it can be. It can lead to organ damage, organ failure, or even death.

In most cases, a healthy oxygen level is 95% or higher. This number is also known as oxygen saturation, and can usually be detected quickly and easily with a pulse oximeter, a small device that reads the oxygen level in your blood simply by placing it on your finger for a few moments. If your oxygen saturation drops below 88%, your doctor will prescribe oxygen therapy[1].

If you are feeling any of the symptoms listed above, it’s time to talk to your doctor about your oxygen levels and any other problems that might be present. It’s also a good idea to have an emergency button alarm on hand so that you can reach out for help at a moment’s notice. Fatigue and confusion are just two of the symptoms that could make you a greater fall risk.

What Happens When You Need Oxygen Therapy

If you need oxygen therapy while you are hospitalized for any reason, that will be provided immediately. This might be anything from a simple nose cannula to treatment in a hyperbaric chamber. That sort of oxygen therapy doesn’t require any action on your part.

But what if you need oxygen therapy outside of a hospital setting? If your doctor believes you need oxygen therapy, they will run certain tests to make sure. The American Lung Association explains how the process works:

There are different tests depending on your condition. For instance, if you might have sleep apnea, the doctor will set you up for a sleep study. This means you will spend time in a sleep clinic or hospital while tiny sensors monitor your breathing, oxygen saturation, and other things as you sleep.

The oxygen in your blood might also be tested at other times, such as during rest in the doctor’s office or during exercise on a treadmill. Those tests might show that you are fine when you are at rest, for example, but when you are actively moving around, your oxygen levels drop. These tests might include lung function tests, blood tests, or a combination of both.

Once it’s clear that you could benefit from oxygen therapy, your doctor will give you a certificate of medical necessity. This certificate should explain exactly what type of oxygen therapy you need as well as the amount of it. This allows you to reach out to an oxygen supplier to get the oxygen you need delivered to your door.

The certificate for the equipment and oxygen is usually good for five years. If your needs change before that time, your doctor can reevaluate you and provide you with a new certificate of medical necessity.

How to Use Oxygen Therapy

Once you have the equipment and oxygen, a representative from the oxygen supplier should teach you how to properly use the oxygen. The oxygen you receive can come in gas or liquid form, and might be in a large cylinder for home use or a smaller, lightweight, portable tank for those on the go. The Cleveland Clinic explains what to expect from the three different types of oxygen:

·         Compressed gas. This is 100% oxygen stored under pressure. When you inhale, the oxygen flows. When you exhale, the oxygen briefly stops. This allows you to conserve oxygen and make the tank last longer. There is a gauge on the tank that will tell you how much oxygen is left.

·         Liquid oxygen. This is a small container, much like a thermos, that contains oxygen stored as a cold liquid. That liquid converts to a gas as you use it. This small container means the oxygen is portable, so you can easily take it out of the home.

·         Oxygen concentrators. These unique devices pull air from the room, remove the nitrogen, and leave you with the oxygen. You breathe in the purified air for an oxygen boost. These are portable oxygen devices and can even be taken on planes! 

There are some other points to remember:

·         Always use oxygen only as directed. Though it might seem to be a rather benign substance, it can be harmful if used incorrectly.

·         Use the rate of prescribed oxygen for each activity. This is known as the “oxygen flow rate.” That means if you are at rest, you are using one rate of oxygen, but if you are moving around, you might need another rate. Your doctor will determine this. The idea is to keep your blood oxygen levels at the best number possible, no matter what you’re doing.

·         Don’t increase or decrease your supplemental oxygen without talking to your doctor first.

·         Use a pulse oximeter to measure your blood oxygen saturation at home. Use it often!

If you ever notice a problem with your oxygen levels – such as seeing them drop even though you are on the right amount of oxygen as directed by your doctor – it’s important to get help right away. Not getting enough oxygen is a medical emergency. A medical alert watch or pendant can give you an easy way to call for help. Simply press the button and get help fast.

Can You Get Too Much Oxygen?

According to NASA, the air we breathe is made up of about 78% nitrogen and 21% oxygen. The other 1% is made up of neon, carbon dioxide, hydrogen, and other gases. Though oxygen therapy usually provides 100% oxygen, that oxygen is blended with the ambient air you breathe in; the flow rate of the oxygen means that you get the recommended amount, which is not enough to make you sick.

Oxygen therapy is usually very safe. However, be careful not to use supplemental oxygen when you don’t need it, or to use more than your doctor has prescribed. Too much oxygen can slow your heart rate to dangerous levels. Oxygen toxicity, or oxygen poisoning, can show up as chest pain, trouble with breathing, feeling dizzy or nauseas, muscle spasms, and having difficulty with vision[2].

Never share your oxygen with anyone else. Not only does this diminish the oxygen you are getting, it can also be deadly for them.

Safety Tips for Using Oxygen

It might seem like oxygen is perfectly safe. After all, it’s in the air we breathe! We need oxygen to survive.

But when you are receiving supplemental oxygen, it’s important to remember that while oxygen can’t start a fire on its own, if it comes into contact with a spark or open flame, the fire can use the oxygen to grow very large, very quickly.

Oxygen will quickly saturate the things around it, such as your clothing, fabric-covered furniture, or even your hair. That means that if something does catch fire, the flame will spread much more quickly than it would otherwise[3]. Always have a fire extinguisher nearby, just in case.

It’s important to keep oxygen away from open flame or any other heat source, such as candles or a gas-powered stovetop. Don’t use flammable items around the oxygen, such as using something out of an aerosol can. Beware of things that might spark, including hair dryers, electric blankets, or electric heaters. It’s also a good idea to choose your clothing wisely – don’t wear wool, nylon, or synthetic materials, as these can create static electricity.

Perhaps most importantly, don’t smoke, and don’t allow anyone to smoke near you while you are using your oxygen delivery device.

Store your oxygen tanks in an upright position in a well-ventilated area.

The Side Effects of Oxygen Therapy

Hopefully, oxygen therapy will make you feel much better. It should give you more energy, allow for clearer thinking, help you sleep better, and so much more. But there can be some side effects of oxygen therapy – these include headaches, especially in the morning, fatigue, and nosebleeds.

Though the side effects of oxygen therapy are outweighed by the benefits it can bring you, those side effects still deserve some attention. Headaches can make it difficult to think clearly, nosebleeds can make you feel lightheaded, and fatigue can make you feel weak and unsteady on your feet.

All of these things warrant the use of a PERS device, or personal emergency response system. A medical alarm that allows you to call for help at the touch of a button can be fantastic peace of mind, allowing you the comfort of knowing that you will always have access to help and support no matter what medical condition you are managing.