Will I benefit from home oxygen therapy?
On this page, we explain how home oxygen therapy helps and who might benefit from it. We also explain the difference between obstructive and restrictive lung conditions, and how both might be treated with oxygen therapy.
How does home oxygen therapy help?
Home oxygen therapy helps improve persistently low blood oxygen levels which place a strain on your heart. This can help you to walk further, do more daily activities, sleep better and improve your concentration.
The main aim of home oxygen therapy is to reduce strain on your heart. This can help prolong your life expectancy by reducing the risk of complications such as pulmonary hypertension. Most of what we know about the benefits of home oxygen therapy comes from studies of people with COPD. But when used as prescribed, oxygen therapy can improve life expectancy in many other people with lung conditions.
Oxygen is a medical gas and is prescribed like any other medication. It is regulated by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency. You must use your oxygen as prescribed and be monitored regularly so that your prescription can be adjusted according to your needs. Misusing oxygen can be harmful.
If you experience new symptoms of morning headache or heaviness; disorientation or confusion; increased tiredness or drowsiness you must tell your respiratory team or GP immediately.
Who can be prescribed home oxygen therapy?
You may be prescribed home oxygen therapy if you have been diagnosed with one, or a combination, of the following conditions and have persistently low blood oxygen levels:
- chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- interstitial lung disease, which includes idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis
- cystic fibrosis
- pulmonary hypertension
- severe heart disease
- obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA)
You should be assessed by a specialist, who will advise if extra oxygen is useful for your condition. Different lung conditions need different treatments and oxygen prescriptions are tailored to your individual needs.
Oxygen therapy doesn’t help everyone with a lung condition. It is a treatment for persistently low blood oxygen levels, not breathlessness.
What’s the difference between obstructive and restrictive lung conditions?
Obstructive and restrictive lung diseases are terms used to describe types of lung conditions. Both can cause low blood oxygen levels and so home oxygen therapy may be necessary for some people with these conditions.
Obstruction refers to how quickly you can move air in and out of your lungs. Restriction refers to the total amount of air you can get into your lungs.
Obstructive lung disease
If a healthy person takes a big breath in and then blows out as hard as they can, they should be able to get at least 70% of the air out of their lungs in one second.
In obstructive lung disease, airflow is slowed down so it takes longer for the lungs to empty. This can happen because of damage to your airways which makes them narrow or because of damage to lung tissue, which makes the lungs less elastic.
Common obstructive lung diseases are:
Restrictive lung disease
In restrictive lung disease, you cannot fill your lungs fully with air because your lungs are restricted from fully expanding. This can happen because the lungs themselves are stiff or scarred or because there is a problem with the chest wall or the breathing muscles.
Restrictive lung conditions include:
The lungs may also be restricted due to:
- scoliosis (or curved spine)
- neuromuscular disease, such as muscular dystrophy or motor neurone disease
- diaphragm paralysis (the loss of control of one or both sides of the diaphragm)
When is a referral made and how is home oxygen therapy assessed?
If you’ve been diagnosed with a lung condition, have the right medication, but still feel very out of breath - it may be time for your health care professional to investigate if your blood oxygen levels are low. Find out how someone is referred for home oxygen therapy and how they are assessed.
How is home oxygen delivered?
Home oxygen therapy can be delivered in various ways. Find out the different delivery methods available across the UK.