7 Common Oxygen Myths for Patients with COPD

COPD, Oxygen Therapy
Oxygen therapy can be an important component to treating COPD.

Myth #1: Oxygen therapy will accelerate death from COPD.

Truth: Oxygen therapy prolong survival only in patients with chronic hypoxemia.

Myth #2: Oxygen therapy is addictive.

Truth: Oxygen is a drug but it is not addictive! Everybody needs oxygen but just the right amount. Too much of anything can be harmful. Therefore, I recommend that my patients purchase pulse oximetry and to keep their SpO2 above 90% but not above 95%. There is no clear benefit to raising the SpO2 to 100%.

Myth #3: Oxygen does not need to be worn at night even when it is prescribed for 24 hours a day.

Truth: Low levels of oxygen in the bloodstream or hypoxemia is more common during sleep in COPD patients because the lungs do not work as vigorously as during the day. Hypoxemia can cause poor sleep and heart rate disturbances, including heart blocks and ventricular arrhythmias. So, keep the oxygen on! And do not forget to schedule a sleep study to determine if there is any other reason for needing oxygen therapy at night.

Myth #4: The side effects from oxygen therapy for COPD are bad.

Truth: The most common side effects of oxygen therapy relate to the irritation of the nasal passages and the discomfort of the oxygen catheter rubbing the top of the ears.

For nasal irritation, first make sure that you are using the correct flow of oxygen. Ask your physician or healthcare provider to double-check. Too much oxygen, for example, 4 LPM, will dry the nasal passages and can even cause nose bleeds. It can also cause sleepiness if your COPD is severe enough. Be alert for headaches and confusion. These are reasons why it is best to keep the SpO2 in the low 90s.

For ear irritation, there are softer catheters that go over the top of the ear to reduce friction.

Myth #5: The oxygen concentrator will explode if you smoke a cigarette.

Truth: There is little to no risk of an oxygen concentrator exploding but you can create a fire in front of your face and suffer serious burns. Stop smoking!

Myth #6: Oxygen equipment is too heavy and bulky to carry.

Truth: Portable oxygen concentrators are small in dimension and weigh under 5 pounds (ie, the equivalent to a bag of sugar or flour).

Myth #7: You are the only one with COPD who needs oxygen therapy.

Truth: Visit a pulmonary rehabilitation program to discover a lot of people with COPD wear oxygen and laugh about life. Remember, oxygen may be needed to help you exercise and ultimately, improve your physical and psychosocial health.

Samuel Louie, MDis a professor of medicine in the Division of Pulmonary, Critical Care, and Sleep Medicine at UC Davis Medical Center. He is the director of both the UC Davis Asthma Network and Reversible Obstructive Airway Disease (ROAD) Center. He is a member of the American College of Physicians, the American College of Chest Physicians, and the American Thoracic Society.