When do you need supplemental oxygen?

People need supplemental oxygen when their blood oxygen levels drop below normal ranges. Certain illnesses or chronic diseases cause low blood oxygen that prevents the body’s organs, tissues, and cells from functioning properly; supplemental oxygen provides enough oxygen for the body to work correctly.

Room air is about 21% oxygen, 78% nitrogen, and other trace gases. For people with healthy lungs, 21% oxygen is sufficient. When we breathe, air comes in through the nose, where it’s humidified and warmed, and then it heads through the rest of the upper airway and makes its way down into the lower respiratory tract.

When air gets to the lungs, it goes through the bronchial tubes; there are two main bronchial tubes, and one goes into each lung. Then, the air travels through smaller branches called bronchioles and into the alveoli, where the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide occurs.

Certain diseases can cause lung damage, inflammation, or scarring, making it hard for oxygen to make its way into the blood to get delivered to the rest of the body. These diseases often occur from toxins, viruses, bacteria, or other irritants.

Common diseases requiring supplemental oxygen sometimes include COPD, asthma, COVID-19, sleep apnea, cystic fibrosis, lung cancer, and pneumonia.

When do you need supplemental oxygen?

Determining The Need For Supplemental Oxygen

Your doctor will check your blood oxygen levels to determine whether you require supplemental oxygen.
  • Pulse Oximeter

    A pulse oximeter is a device you place on your finger that checks oxygen saturation in your red blood cells. Your doctor, nurse, or respiratory therapist can check your pulse oximeter reading or recommend you monitor your readings at home. Generally, 95-100% readings are considered normal, and readings below 88% (taken at rest) will qualify a person for home oxygen therapy.
  • Six-Minute Walk Test

    During a six-minute walk test, your healthcare provider or respiratory therapist monitors your heart rate and oxygen level while you walk as far as you can for six minutes. The test helps your provider determine whether you need supplemental oxygen or changes to your existing oxygen therapy.
  • Arterial Blood Gas (ABG)

    An arterial blood gas (ABG) test gives the most accurate blood oxygen levels. After taking a small sample of blood from an artery, your doctor or respiratory therapist can see your blood’s pH balance and carbon dioxide and oxygen levels. An ABG measures PO2, or partial pressure of oxygen, which shows how much oxygen is getting dissolved in your blood. A PO2 of 55 or below could mean you qualify for supplemental oxygen.


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