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Who Needs Oxygen Therapy?

Your doctor may recommend oxygen therapy if you have a low blood oxygen level. Normally, your lungs absorb oxygen from the air and transfer it into your bloodstream.

Some acute (short-term) and chronic (ongoing) diseases and conditions can prevent you from getting enough oxygen.

Acute Diseases and Conditions

You may receive oxygen therapy if you're in the hospital for a serious condition that prevents you from getting enough oxygen. Once you've recovered from the condition, the oxygen will likely be stopped.

Some diseases and conditions that may require short-term oxygen therapy are:

  • Severe pneumonia. Pneumonia is an infection in one or both of the lungs. If severe, the infection causes your lungs' air sacs to become very inflamed. This prevents the air sacs from moving enough oxygen into your blood.
  • Severe asthma attack. Asthma is a lung disease that inflames and narrows the airways. Most people who have asthma, including many children, can safely manage their symptoms. But if you have a severe asthma attack, you may need hospital care that includes oxygen therapy.
  • Respiratory distress syndrome (RDS) or bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD) in premature babies. Premature babies may develop one or both of these serious lung conditions. As part of their treatment, they may receive extra oxygen through a nasal continuous positive airway pressure (NCPAP) machine or a ventilator (VEN-til-a-tor), or through a tube in the nose.

Chronic Diseases and Conditions

Long-term home oxygen therapy might be used to treat some diseases and conditions, such as:

  • COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). This is a progressive disease in which damage to the air sacs prevents them from moving enough oxygen into the bloodstream. "Progressive" means the disease gets worse over time.
  • Late-stage heart failure. This is a condition in which the heart can't pump enough oxygen-rich blood to meet the body's needs.
  • Cystic fibrosis (CF). CF is an inherited disease of the secretory glands, including the glands that make mucus and sweat. People who have CF have thick, sticky mucus that collects in their airways. The mucus makes it easy for bacteria to grow. This leads to repeated, serious lung infections. Over time, these infections can severely damage the lungs.
  • Sleep-related breathing disorders that lead to low levels of oxygen in the blood during sleep, such as sleep apnea.
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Last Updated: February 24, 2012