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You are here : 3-RX.com > Medical Encyclopedia > Special Topics > Oxygen Therapy
      Category : Health Centers > Respiratory System (Lungs and Breathing)

Oxygen Therapy

Alternate Names : O2 Therapy

Oxygen therapy is a medical treatment that provides extra oxygen to the tissues of the body through the lungs, a process known as respiration.

What is the information for this topic?

Oxygen is a colorless, odorless, tasteless gas that is essential for the body to function properly. The body needs oxygen to survive. The heart relies on oxygen to beat and pump blood. If not enough oxygen is circulating in the blood, it's hard for the tissues of the heart to keep pumping. Supplemental oxygen is used to treat medical conditions in which the tissues of body do not have enough oxygen, including:

  • asthma, a chronic disease causing intermittent narrowing of the airways
  • chronic bronchitis, with long-term irritation of the airways
  • anemia, or a low red blood cell count
  • pneumonia
  • pulmonary edema, a condition in which extra fluid accumulates in the lungs
  • congestive heart failure, a condition in which a weakened heart fails to pump enough blood to the body cells
  • Oxygen is also used to treat victims of smoke inhalation. It helps reduce the spasms and swelling that smoke causes in the lungs. Mountain climbers and pilots use supplemental oxygen when they are at heights where there is not enough oxygen in the atmosphere.

    In the hospital, oxygen is used during surgery to help give anesthesia. After surgery, a person may be given oxygen for a short time to help awaken from the anesthesia. Oxygen is also given to improve the results of some treatments.

    There are several ways to give oxygen. A compressed gas cylinder, called an oxygen tank, is the most common way. Oxygen is also given through a special unit called an oxygen concentrator. This device removes most of another gas, nitrogen, from the air, which makes the oxygen more concentrated.

    The oxygen is delivered to the person from the oxygen tank or concentrator through tubing attached to a mask, a tent, or a nasal cannula. A nasal cannula is tubing that is placed a short distance into each nostril. The way oxygen is given depends on the person's age of the person and the condition being treated. Usually adults and older children use a nasal cannula. Children may need to use an oxygen mask or tent.

    Oxygen is very drying to the tissues of the body, especially the nose. Distilled water is used to add moisture to the oxygen. The moisture protects the delicate lining of the nose.

    Oxygen therapy can be given at home. Someone who has asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), or congestive heart failure may use oxygen at home. One of the goals of home oxygen therapy is to lessen the need for emergency department visits and hospital stays. The proven benefits include longer survival, fewer hospitalizations, and better quality of life. The person is taught how to use the oxygen tank, how to change the tubing, and when the oxygen needs to be used.

    The cost of oxygen therapy in the home ranges from $300 to $500 a month. Medicare covers about 80% of the cost if certain requirements are met. Private insurance plans also cover most of the cost of oxygen therapy.

    Hyperbaric oxygen (HBO) is another form of oxygen therapy. In this treatment, compressed oxygen is given at a high level of pressure. The person is placed inside a special pressure chamber. The chamber is a large tube with clear glass on the top and sides. The chamber is sealed and pressurized. The person then breathes 100% oxygen given at a pressure more than 1 1/2 times the normal atmospheric pressure. HBO is used to treat many conditions, including:

  • carbon monoxide poisoning
  • gangrene, or tissue death and infection
  • burns
  • infections
  • some wounds that won't heal
  • severe smoke inhalation
  • decompression sickness
  • Oxygen therapy is an essential treatment in many conditions. But certain precautions must be taken when using oxygen. Oxygen and fire do not mix. Electrical equipment, such as heating pads, radios, and hair dryers, should be kept away from the area. No one should smoke where oxygen is being used. Any combustible material, such as alcohol, perfumes, and propane, must be kept away from oxygen tanks.

    Author: Donna Lester, RN, PHN, BSN, CCM
    Reviewer: Eileen McLaughlin, RN, BSN
    Date Reviewed: 09/04/01



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