Oxygen therapy

Will I benefit from oxygen therapy?

You may be prescribed oxygen therapy if you have been diagnosed with one, or a combination, of the following conditions:

You may also be prescribed oxygen before a specific lung condition is identified.

You should be assessed by a specialist, who will advise if extra oxygen is useful for your condition. Different lung conditions need different management and oxygen prescriptions are tailored to your individual needs. Oxygen therapy does not help everyone with a lung condition.

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 headache, a faster than normal pulse rate, disorientation or confusion, you must tell your respiratory team or GP immediately, or got to A&E.

How does oxygen therapy help?

Oxygen therapy helps improve low blood oxygen levels. This can help you to walk further. It can also reduce the risk of  complications such as pulmonary hypertension, which is high blood pressure in the lungs. Most of what we know about the benefits of oxygen therapy comes from studies of people  with COPD. But when used as prescribed, oxygen therapy can improve life expectancy in many people.

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 may be treated with oxygen therapy tailored to your needs.

Obstruction refers to how quickly you can move air in and out. Restriction refers to the total amount of air you can get into your lungs.

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:

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:

Lung expansion can also be restricted by: 

  • obesity

  • scoliosis (or curved spine)

  • neuromuscular disease, such as muscular dystrophy or motor neurone disease

  • diaphragm paralysis

Next: When is a referral for oxygen therapy made? >

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Last medically reviewed: February 2018. Due for review: February 2021

This information uses the best available medical evidence and was produced with the support of people living with lung conditions. Find out how we produce our information. If you’d like to see our references get in touch.