Why Do People with Emphysema Need More Oxygen

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Emphysema is a kind of chronic condition called COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). It evolves gradually, causing the progressive deterioration of lung tissue, particularly the destruction of the alveoli— your small air sacs within your lungs. There are several main symptoms of the disease. But why people with emphysema need more oxygen?

Blood oxygen saturation

Your blood oxygen level, which is also known as blood oxygen saturation, indicates the quantity of oxygen (O2) circulating in your blood. Essential in human life, oxygen is a crucial (very vital) requirement for the proper functioning of the body.

As you inhale it (through your nose or mouth), eventually O2 travels through your lungs into the bloodstream. Then it is distributed to all cells throughout your body. Every cell relies on oxygen to generate energy efficiently, and this energy is important for various bodily processes, including digestion and cognitive functions.

In general, oxygen therapy may not be really necessary at early stages of the disease. So not all patients with emphysema require it.

However, as the disease progresses to later stages, the alveoli sustain increased damage, reducing the mechanism of your lungs to effectively exchange oxygen (O2) and carbon dioxide (CO2). This adversely affects the airways, limiting the intake and release of air. Consequently, the diminished airflow results in a reduction of oxygen passing through your lungs into the bloodstream and you’re at high risk of getting a drop in your blood oxygen levels.

A physician might advise the initiation of oxygen therapy when the blood oxygen level falls below 55 millimeters of mercury (mmHg) at rest or when the blood oxygen saturation drops below 88%. The therapy is usually required to help maintain patient’s blood oxygen saturation of 90% or higher [1].

As mentioned before, the disease can cause the destruction of the walls between the alveoli. This diminishes the lungs’ capacity to efficiently absorb oxygen into the bloodstream and expel carbon dioxide from the blood.

Also, the loss of resilience in lung tissue will interfere with the lung’s ability to stretch and contract appropriately. When the lungs lack this resilience, they are unable to fully expel air, leading to the retention of some air in the air sacs.

Emphysema signs and symptoms may vary from patient to patient. But mostly they include [2]:

  1. Shortness of breath.
  2. Changes in weight, particularly weight loss. This may be followed with loss of muscle.
  3. Wheezing,
  4. Over-inflation of the lungs may lead to a barrel chest.

More advanced stages mean you’re likely to require oxygen therapy

The disease is manageable, though there is still no cure. The decision of whether a patient with emphysema needs O2 therapy may require a comprehensive evaluation. Consult a doctor for more guidance!

But generally, it’s dependent on the stage of the disease. When the disease have become advanced, O2 therapy is likely to be suggested!

Stages Description
When you’re at risk Your breathing test appears normal, but you may experience mild symptoms such as a persistent cough and increased mucus production.
Early stage The breathing test reveals mild airflow blockage. You may experience signs and symptoms like a persistent cough and a bit excess mucus production, but the effects of reduced airflow is not really noticeable.
Moderate At this stage, you may start seeking seek medical attention as you begin to have a decline in airflow. Symptoms often include shortness of breath, especially during physical activity.
Severe Severe limited airflow (Breathing test result).

You can get O2 therapy for emphysema with several options, probably even at home. This may include:

  1. Oxygen-Conserving Device: Individuals can acquire an oxygen-conserving device for use with compressed oxygen. This device prevents the tank from releasing oxygen when a person is not inhaling, reducing the risk of excessive oxygen intake and associated hazards.
  2. Compressed Oxygen: This method utilizes an oxygen tank to deliver O2. Most of these compressed tanks are portable, allowing you to take them portably. Drawback, you need to use the tanks carefully, they are weighty and may pose a risk of explosion if exposed to high heat or open flames.
  3. Oxygen Concentrator: These devices draw in air from the environment and concentrate it into oxygen. They operate without the need for an oxygen tank, enhancing safety and reducing the risk of combustion. They are available in stationary models for home use and portable (ambulatory) machines that individuals can carry with them.

Again, consult to your doctor for more comprehensive guidance, and don’t make decision on your own! Even a recent study reveals that some individuals with the lung disease COPD may not always experience long-term benefits from the therapy. This discovery offers valuable insights for both doctors and patients in selecting the most appropriate treatment options.


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