11 Questions to Ask About Your Oxygen Prescription

If you have a new oxygen prescription from your doctor, there are several questions you should ask to make sure you understand how to use your supplemental oxygen. While it might seem simple to turn on the oxygen and breathe it in, purified medical oxygen is considered a medication that requires a doctor’s evaluation and prescription.

In this article, we will go over 11 specific questions you should ask your doctor regarding your oxygen prescription.

1. Why Do I Need Oxygen Therapy?

Supplemental oxygen is used for a variety of health conditions; including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), pneumonia, congestive heart failure, interstitial lung disease, obstructive sleep apnea, and many more. While many of these conditions generally require short-term oxygen use, some situations require long-term use.

It is essential that you understand why you need oxygen therapy, and you should feel free to ask your doctor to explain the exact reason. You may not understand the entire medical explanation, but you gain more confidence over your treatment plan once you have established why you need oxygen therapy in the first place.

2. What Does Supplemental Oxygen Do For Me?

While the air we breathe naturally contains 21% oxygen, there are times when we may require more than 21% oxygen. For example, with COPD, the structure of the lungs change in response to persistent inflammation, which can eventually affect the lung’s ability to draw oxygen from ordinary air. In this case, the lungs are unable to function with only the normal oxygen in the air, which creates the need to use supplemental oxygen beyond what is found in normal ambient air. Therefore, supplemental oxygen is a way to overcome the dysfunction of the diseased lung so the body can continue to obtain the oxygen needed to survive.

Your condition may be different, so be sure to ask your doctor what role supplemental oxygen plays in regards to your oxygen prescription.

3. How and When Should I Use Oxygen?

There are several ways to use supplemental oxygen including a nasal cannula, a simple mask, or by direct instillation into a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine. How you will use oxygen is essential to know because you might need to use multiple routes depending on the situation.

In addition to the oxygen device, your oxygen prescription will also include a liter flow setting. The oxygen liter flow is a way to measure the output of the flow in liters per minute (LPM). Many people are prescribed 2 LPM as a baseline setting, but there may be provisions to use higher liter flows when 2 LPM is not enough.

Your doctor will also inform you regarding when you should be using your oxygen prescription. Some people only need oxygen while walking or exercising. Others may need to use oxygen even at rest. Therefore, it is important to ask when you should be using your oxygen.

4. How Long Do I Need to Use Supplemental Oxygen?

Just because you are prescribed supplemental oxygen does not necessarily mean you will be using it for a long time. Some people may only have a limited prescription until the condition they are facing subsides. Others have a more chronic issue that may require long-term supplemental oxygen. Ask your doctor what the expected timeline is so you can prepare.

5. What Should I Do If I Feel Great and Do Not Think I Need Supplemental Oxygen Anymore?

Just like any other medication, it is essential to keep using it until you have spoken to your doctor about the change in your condition. It might be the case that your doctor will let you know you can stop early, but there might be risks if you stop yourself. It is always best to continue your treatment plan as ordered until you have asked your doctor.

6. Is There Anything I Should Avoid While I Am Prescribed with Oxygen?

Unlike most medications, there are not many risks to using oxygen with other medicines. However, you should always avoid smoking and any fire while using oxygen because of its role in creating fire. Your doctor may have additional guidelines, so be sure to ask about this also.

7. Is There Any Risk to Using Oxygen?

Aside from the fire risk, using extremely high levels of oxygen is also a risk, although this level is rarely seen outside of a hospital or ambulance. That said, using even slightly higher levels of oxygen over time can cause damage to the lungs and also alter the drive to breathe in patients with COPD. Therefore, it is important to clarify these and other potential risks regarding your oxygen prescription with your doctor.

8. Will I Be Able to Travel With Oxygen?

The quick answer to this question is yes; however, your doctor will be able to provide specific instructions regarding your oxygen needs, whether you are traveling by air, water, or land. Your ability to travel safely depends a lot on the severity of your disease, which your doctor will be able to discern through adequate testing.

9. What Should I Do If My Oxygen Tank Runs Out Unexpectedly?

Whether you forget to turn off the oxygen tank or your oxygen concentrator runs out of batteries, you might run into a situation where your oxygen supply is suddenly cut short. While you might feel anxious while it is happening, your doctor can help formulate a contingency plan with you in case you run out unexpectedly. This might include a trip to the emergency room, but some cases might be able to be resolved in urgent care.

10. Will I Need Any Tests With My Oxygen Prescription?

Your doctor will most likely order 2 primary tests to evaluate your present and ongoing needs for supplemental oxygen: a pulse oximetry test and arterial blood gas. Both of these tests measure the oxygen levels in your bloodstream, which is the best way to evaluate the supply of oxygen getting into your body.

11. Can I Get a Certificate of Medical Necessity?

Your certificate of medical necessity will be necessary when proving to your insurance company and other 3rd-party organizations that you have a medical need for an oxygen device. To avoid delays in receiving this document, be sure to ask about it right when you are receiving your oxygen prescription.

Questions to Ask Your Doctor About Your Oxygen Therapy Prescription

Final Thoughts

It is very common for patients to leave their doctor’s appointments feeling like they have too much to remember, yet also think that they did not ask the questions they really wanted to ask. With this simple list of 11 questions to ask regarding your oxygen prescription, you will be prepared during your appointment and will walk away, feeling more confident about your treatment plan.

Updated: January 20, 2020
Published: August 19, 2019

About Ryan Anthony: Ryan Anthony, BS, RRT is a registered respiratory therapist and content writer and medical blogger currently located in Los Angeles, California. As a Respiratory Therapist, he performs a wide range of hospital duties including adult and neonatal intensive care, nitric oxide therapy, high-frequency oscillatory ventilation, conventional mechanical ventilation, noninvasive ventilation, BiPAP, CPAP, intubation assistance, bronchoscopy assistance, cardiopulmonary resuscitation, chest physiotherapy, and nebulizer therapy.

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