Oxygen therapy is not a prison sentence

An old cliché says, “as easy as breathing.” For millions of seniors, breathing doesn’t come easily without the assistance of oxygen therapy. Our body needs about 22 percent oxygen, so our cells work correctly, says the American Thoracic Society. People with compromised lungs may not get enough oxygen into their blood and need help.

According to Grand View Research, advances in technology and rising prevalence of the respiratory disease will result in increased growth in the oxygen therapy business. Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), will be the world’s third leading cause of death by 2030.

COPD, and other diseases like asthma and congestive heart failure, may worsen enough to require the patient need oxygen therapy.

As someone suffering from chronic bronchitis and asthma for more than 25 years, I had no idea that supplemental oxygen was in my future. When I shared a range of diverse, new symptoms with my pulmonologist last May, he ordered a battery of tests. Only hours later, a home medical technician was at our home with a confusing array of equipment. Like most people, my experience with supplemental oxygen was limited to hospital stays and observing a relative with congestive heart failure.

My husband and I were utterly unprepared for the change in our lives. Nearly a year later, I’ve adjusted, and for the most part, it has not adversely affected my life. And I can breathe easier.


At-home oxygen concentrator: The at-home concentrator, about the same size as R2D2 from Star Wars, is the source for your home oxygen. My machine is loud and hot, summer or winter. I keep mine in my home office close to a wall outlet.

I wear my oxygen all night, and sometimes during the day, depending on weather conditions (extreme heat and cold bother my lungs).

- The concentrator requires little maintenance; I wash the two filters monthly with dish soap.

- Tubing (from 50 down to six feet) connects to your concentrator on one end, and a cannula on the other. The cannula fits in your nose.

- Emergency tank: Power can go out anytime, so most home medical suppliers provide an emergency tank. Mine is a 12-hour tank (based on the oxygen I use). I have yet to use it. The home medical supplier told me it will be replaced once a year, even if still full.

- Portable oxygen: Initially, the home medical provider brought me multiple portable oxygen tanks, each with four hours’ worth of oxygen, and each weighing 25 pounds.

Still working at the time, I struggled. I needed three tanks with me in the car. Lifting 75 pounds into the car every morning when my oxygen is usually at its lowest was a deal-breaker. As a hospital marketing executive, I attended meetings and facility visits in the community, which meant dragging a tank in and out of the car multiple times a day. This wasn’t going to work for me.

I asked for another option, and now rent a portable oxygen concentrator that makes oxygen from room air. My unit weighs about five pounds and is far superior to the bulky green tanks.

You can rent your device (check with your insurer) or purchase one.

Some insider tips

* Purchase a pulse oximeter so you can monitor your own oxygen use. Some phones have oxygen apps, like the Samsung Galaxy series. Check with your physician.

* Notify your electric company you are on oxygen. In case of a power outage, you’ll be on the priority list.

* Place a sign “Oxygen in use” near your front door. Smoking and oxygen therapy go together like kindling and a match.

* Watch your electric bill and turn the lights off because you’ll see an increase in usage from your at-home concentrator.

* Tubing and cannulas need to be replaced every few weeks. I pick up a month’s worth from the home medical office. You can also buy them online or in durable medical equipment stores. You may want to try different cannulas as some are softer to the nose than others.

* Oxygen may dry out your nasal cavities and lead to nosebleeds in some people. Make sure your home is well-humidified or use nasal saline or gel.

* Always consult with your physician.

Going on oxygen does not mean you are imprisoned in your home. I don’t plan to let it cramp my style. And sometimes it has benefits. Climbing the steep, curvy stairs of a New York theatre recently, I bested my husband to the top (with my portable tank on). That wouldn’t have happened before.

Disclaimer: Your home medical provider may offer you a slightly different set-up or equipment. My choices are not meant to be prescriptive, only descriptive.

Amy McVay Abbott is a retired health care executive who writes about health care for Senior Wire News Service.