Supplemental or “extra” oxygen is one of the most commonly used therapies for people admitted to a hospital. When our bodies can’t get sufficient oxygen from normal air, we need to supplement it by breathing in pure oxygen.
Oxygen is a colorless gas that makes up 21% of the air we breathe. The remaining 79% is comprised of 78% nitrogen and 1% trace gases. Oxygen and other medical gases are considered medications and require a prescription. The provision of oxygen as a medicine, oxygen therapy, is prescribed for several reasons including hypoxia/increased work of breathing, decreased cardiac work, and for palliative reasons.
Hypoxia is a generic term describing an insufficient availability of oxygen for proper functioning of the cells of the body. When a physician prescribes oxygen, they are prescribing a level of oxygen that will bring a patient’s blood level of oxygen back to a normal level.
The oxygen level of patients is measured through a blood test or with a pulse oximeter. Guess what most people would prefer to use? The blood test measures the pressure of oxygen in the plasma of arterial blood gas. This measurement is called the partial pressure of arterial oxygen and is abbreviated PO2. The normal range is between 80 – 100 mmHg. When a person with non-diseased lungs has a PO2 less than 80 mmHg, they are considered hypoxic and oxygen is usually ordered.
The alternative to drawing blood is using a pulse oximeter. A pulse oximeter shines red light through the body and finds a pulsating arterial blood vessel. It then locks onto the pulse and measures the amount of light absorbed. The amount of red light absorbed can provide a value that tells you what percent the blood hemoglobin is saturated with oxygen. This measurement is called the saturation of oxygen and is abbreviated SPO2. The normal range is 90 – 100%. If a person is below 90%, they are said to be hypoxic.
The heart requires the consumption of oxygen in order to function. For patients with cardiac problems like acute myocardial infarction (heart attack) and post-cardiac surgery, oxygen consumption can play a major role in the recovery process. Besides the benefit of oxygen on treating hypoxia, decreasing the workload of the heart can prevent irregular heartbeats and improve the outcome of the patient.
Terminally ill patients are a good example of the use of palliative oxygen therapy. A patient’s psychological perceptions play a big role in their treatment or care. Oxygen helps with anxiety and can even reduce the amount of painkillers a terminal patient consumes. The patient feels and hears the oxygen rushing through the oxygen delivery device and this eases the anxiety and fear associated with their disease process. This therapy does not work for every patient but it is commonplace in hospice therapy and any hospice nurse will testify to its positive use.
In all cases, oxygen is administered by inhalation generally via a plastic tube that has small prongs that insert into your nostrils. Oxygen flows through the tube and into your airways. When people are prescribed oxygen therapy, they often don’t need to use it all the time. The doctor may prescribe it only during sleep, for outdoor use/leaving the house, or with certain activities
There are three types of oxygen delivery methods:
- Compressed Oxygen – The compressed oxygen cylinders come in large storage sizes and compact portable tanks. It’s not unusual to see people carting around these green cylinders for their oxygen needs.
- Liquid Oxygen – Liquid oxygen cylinders come in large storage tanks that can be used to fill smaller portable containers that can be carried over the shoulder or in a waist pack.
- Oxygen Concentrators – Oxygen concentrators are electrical devices that can separate oxygen from normal air. This is available in stationary or portable sizes.
There are pros and cons to each type of device. We at Apollo HomeCare believe that with the portable concentrators, you have many more options and much more freedom to travel for longer periods and further from home. As long as the concentrators have electrical or battery power, they will keep extracting oxygen from the air forever. This makes them a great option for extended travel, whether via car, plane, train or even boat.
For this reason, when Medicare approves oxygen therapy prescribed by a physician, we don’t saddle you with the complications of a tank and a cart, but the newest technology of oxygen concentrators. We are the only medical supply business in the area that cares enough to take this action.