Oxygen therapy is one of the most effective long-term cures for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD.) It’s especially advantageous for treating severe or acute cases of COPD. If you have COPD, your doctor will regularly monitor the oxygen levels in your blood. If your oxygen levels are dropping or if they reach below a safe threshold, oxygen treatment may frequently be recommended.
Treating COPD is difficult and many treatments won’t actually prolong life. Oxygen therapy is one of the very few treatments for this disease that have resulted in a consistently measurable increase in lifespan. It also improves the sleep of many COPD patients, who often have difficulty sleeping.
Life During & After Treatment
What can you expect once you begin treatment? For one, you’ll notice that breathing becomes a lot easier. You won’t have to struggle to take in each breath of air. You’ll feel more energetic and life becomes less of a struggle.
However, people using oxygen therapy can also feel like their oxygen devices put a barrier between them and the world. Communicating with your loved ones while on oxygen therapy takes a little getting used to.
Are There Any Risks to the Treatment?
If oxygen therapy is administered properly, there’s very little to no risk. You’re not elevating your oxygen level beyond what’s safe, you’re restoring your blood’s oxygen levels back to where they’re meant to be.
The #1 hazard with oxygen treatment is fire hazard. If you smoke or if there are smokers who live in the house, have a very serious discussion with your doctor about whether or not oxygen treatment is right for you. One lit flame around an open oxygen tank could be all that’s needed to set off a catastrophic fire.
Aside from the fire hazard however, it’s difficult to go wrong with oxygen treatment. Keep open flames and lit cigarettes away from your oxygen tanks and the risks will be minimal.
Should You Wait?
Some patients choose to put off getting oxygen treatment, out of fear of alienation or because they want to try other treatment options first. Most doctors would recommend that as soon as your blood oxygen levels drop to a certain threshold that you go on oxygen treatment immediately.
Failure to do so could result in heart failure due to lack of oxygen. It’ll also prevent you from having bouts of breath shortness.
Some patients wait until they need to have oxygen administered in an emergency situation. If you suddenly notice you’re having a very hard time breathing, you may need to be rushed to a hospital for emergency oxygen.
How Many Hours a Day Do You Need Treatment?
In order to get the maximum benefit possible from oxygen treatment, it’s recommended that you be on the oxygen machine 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. There are no real downsides to using oxygen and there’s a very real downside to being off the machine.
That said, if the machine is physically or socially uncomfortable, you’re free to remove it for a few hours at a time. Clinical studies have shown that oxygen treatment can increase life expectancy as long as the patient uses oxygen for at least 15 hours every day.
Does Medicare Cover the Treatment?
Medicare coverage is a tricky subject and should be explored in more detail with an expert. Determining whether or not you qualify for Medicare coverage begins with an arterial blood gas test.
In order to be reimbursed by Medicare, you need to fall within a stringent set of guidelines. You need an oxygen saturation level of under 89%. Your partial pressure of oxygen needs to fall within a predetermined range as well, usually within 55 mm Hg.
If you have a bad case of COPD, there’s a good chance Medicare will cover your expenses. However, there are many cases of COPD that don’t fall under Medicare’s thresholds where oxygen treatment would still be recommended. In those cases, you won’t be able to get reimbursed.
Where to Go from Here
If you or a loved one is considering oxygen treatment, talk to your doctor. Discuss your current levels of oxygen and whether or not it’s safe to continue living without oxygen treatment. If your doctor recommends going on oxygen, it’s a good idea to do so right away. It could save your life.