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How Does Oxygen Therapy Work?

Oxygen therapy provides you with extra oxygen, a gas that your body needs to work well. Oxygen comes in different forms and can be delivered to your lungs in several ways.

Oxygen Therapy Systems

Oxygen is supplied in three forms: as compressed gas, as liquid, or as a concentrated form taken from the air.

Compressed oxygen gas is stored under pressure in metal cylinders. The cylinders come in many sizes. Some of the cylinders are small enough to carry around. You can put one on a small wheeled cart or in a shoulder bag or backpack.

Liquid oxygen is very cold. When released from its container, the liquid becomes gas. Liquid oxygen is delivered to your home in a large container. From this container, smaller, portable units can be filled.

The advantage of liquid oxygen is that the storage units need less space than compressed or concentrated oxygen. However, liquid oxygen costs more than the other forms of oxygen. Also, it evaporates easily, so it doesn't last for a long time.

Oxygen concentrators filter out other gases in the air and store only oxygen. Oxygen concentrators come in several sizes, including portable units.

Oxygen concentrators cost less than the other oxygen therapy systems. One reason is because they don't require oxygen refills. However, oxygen concentrators are powered by electricity. Thus, you'll need a backup supply of oxygen in case of a power outage.

Delivery Devices

Most often, oxygen is given through a nasal cannula. A nasal cannula consists of two small plastic tubes, or prongs, that are placed in both nostrils.

To help hold the cannula in place, you can put the longer ends of it over your ears or attach them to a special kind of eyeglass frame that helps hide the tubing. The tubing then comes around the back of your ears and under your chin, where it joins together. From there, it's attached to the tube from the oxygen container.

Nasal Cannula and Portable Oxygen Container

Figure A shows a normal mitral valve that separates the left atrium from the left ventricle. Figure B shows a heart with mitral valve prolapse. Figure C shows the detail of mitral valve prolapse. Figure D shows a mitral valve that allows blood to flow backward into the left atrium.

The image shows how a nasal cannula and portable oxygen container are attached to a patient.

You might use a face mask instead of a nasal cannula. The mask fits over your mouth and nose. This method mainly is used if you need a high flow rate of oxygen or if your nose is clogged from a cold.

The face mask is held in place with a strap that goes around your head or with tubes that fit around your ears. The oxygen is delivered through a tube that attaches to the front of the mask.

Oxygen also can be delivered through a small tube inserted into your windpipe through the front of your neck. Your doctor will use a needle or small incision (cut) to place the tube. Oxygen delivered this way is called transtracheal oxygen therapy.

If you're getting transtracheal oxygen therapy, you'll need to have a humidifier attached to your oxygen system. This is because the oxygen doesn't pass through your nose or mouth like it does with the other delivery systems. A humidifier adds moisture to the oxygen and prevents your airways from getting too dry.

Oxygen also can be delivered through machines that support breathing, such as CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) devices or ventilators.

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February 24, 2012