If you stop breathing for a long enough time, what happens? Death will happen after around 5 minutes without air, with unconsciousness and brain damage occurring first. The rare exceptions are divers who have trained to hold their breath for up to 10 minutes.
There are also stories of children who have fallen into ice cold water and were without air for up to 1 hour. Their metabolism slowed so much because of the cold water that needed much less oxygen to survive. Once pulled out of the icy water and warmed up, they experienced no brain damage. Aside from these amazing cases, the average person's brain function will suffer greatly without enough oxygen.
If you have severe COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease), you will have trouble getting enough oxygen into your body due to poor lung function. Depending on your condition, you might be able to fix this problem with oxygen therapy. If you are using oxygen therapy, your doctor has prescribed the right amount of oxygen for you and your needs. Your doctor will determine how much oxygen you will need by monitoring your blood oxygen level.
If you have severe COPD, you are likely using your oxygen concentrator for many hours of the day. Luckily, portable oxygen concentrators exist, so that you don't have to be home bound to your home oxygen concentrator.
Unfortunately, COPD often isn't diagnosed until the disease has progressed quite a bit – enough for the patient to go to the doctor because they realize that something is very wrong. The early signs of COPD are subtle and are usually thought to be something else. When the disease has progressed to the moderate to severe stage, the signs of loss of brain function can become evident.
These signs are memory loss and confusion, which can start out small and are often wrote off as having an “elderly moment” by the one experiencing them, or as a simple slip of the mind. People forget things all the time, young and old, but if you have COPD, this should not be taken lightly. If your loved ones have seen a change in your behavior and sudden changes in your mood, listen to them. Talk about these things with your doctor.
Your alertness can suffer as well, making it hard for you to focus and do things that require planning ahead and logic, also known as your cognitive functions. This can be annoying for the one experiencing it, but it can also be dangerous. If you are having a hard time remembering things, you might forget to take your medications. You might not be thinking clearly and try to change the oxygen flow on your oxygen concentrator, which can be dangerous.
To prevent the negative effects of low levels of oxygen, one of the main things you can do is carefully follow your doctor's instructions for using your oxygen equipment. You will be able to get the amount of oxygen you need by breathing in pure oxygen for a determined interval of time.
Information on this page is for reference and educational purposes only. For more information about COPD, talk to your doctor or primary care provider.