Is Oxygen Therapy Right for You?

You can go without food and water for days, but it only takes a few minutes without oxygen to end your life. That’s why diseases that restrict your ability to take in air are so frightening. Not only do they pose a physical problem, but the mental anguish is terrifying.

Fortunately, oxygen therapy can restore the proper level of oxygen in your blood so you can rest — and breathe — easier. 

At Rockland Thoracic & Vascular Associates, our team of specialists uses the most advanced technology to diagnose and treat conditions that rob you of vital oxygen. One of the most effective treatments has been around for many years: oxygen therapy. 

Here’s a closer look at this lifesaving therapy to give you a better idea of how it fits into your overall treatment plan.

Oxygen therapy explained

Simply put, oxygen therapy is a way to increase your oxygen intake if you can’t get enough on your own. We can supplement natural oxygen in different ways.

Oxygen gas comes in a portable tank that you can use at home or on the go. Some tanks even have gas-conserving abilities so your supply lasts longer. 

Liquid oxygen also comes in a portable tank, but it’s much more concentrated, so the tank is smaller. Both of these types of oxygen therapy use a nasal cannula — a small tube that delivers oxygen into your nostrils — or an oxygen mask.

Another way to deliver oxygen is through a hyperbaric chamber. This is especially helpful if you have wounds or infections that can benefit from higher levels of oxygen. The chamber offers 3-4 times the air pressure, and the oxygen is purer than in a normal environment.

When to consider oxygen therapy

For most people, the involuntary act of breathing in and out is all it takes to get the right amount of oxygen, but for those who suffer from certain conditions, it’s not so easy. Here are a few of the most common oxygen-limiting conditions:

  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Emphysema
  • Asthma
  • Pneumonia
  • Sleep apnea
  • Chronic bronchitis
  • Lung disease
  • Cystic fibrosis

Each of these have different underlying causes, so your treatment plan may include different approaches, but each can benefit from extra oxygen.

Signs you’re not getting enough oxygen

Shortness of breath and rapid breathing are the main clues that you’re not getting enough oxygen. Your breathing becomes labored as you struggle to survive. But there are other signs, too, including:

  • Rapid heart rate
  • Perspiration
  • Wheezing and coughing
  • Confusion
  • Lightheadedness
  • Changes in skin color

If you notice any of these symptoms, it’s a good indicator that you’re running low on oxygen, and you should seek medical attention immediately.

How we measure your oxygen level

Our experts use two different tests to measure your blood oxygen level.

A simple blood draw from an artery gives a good picture of the amount of oxygen in your blood, a test called arterial blood gas (ABG). Since arteries carry oxygen-rich blood away from your heart, these are the best vessels to draw from.

Another way to measure your oxygen level is to use a pulse oximeter, which is a noninvasive device that sends infrared light into the capillaries in your finger and gives us an estimate.

Either way, we’re looking for an optimal blood oxygen level in the range of 80-100 mmHg if using the ABG measurement or between 95-100% if using the pulse oximeter reading. If your blood oxygen saturation hits 88% or drops below that, we recommend oxygen therapy. 

The good news is that oxygen not only helps you breathe more easily in the short term, studies show it may also increase survival rates for those suffering from severe respiratory conditions, such as COPD. 

To find out if oxygen therapy can help you breathe better and live a more active life, schedule a consultation with our team at any of our four New York locations in Pomona, Goshen, Fishkill, or the Washington Heights section of Manhattan, or our Englewood, New Jersey, office today.