Home About AllHealth Website Sitemap Contact Us
All Health 
You are here: Home > Old Medical Ref > Old Special Topics Finder > oxygen therapy


oxygen therapy

Alternative Names
O2 therapy

Oxygen therapy is a medical treatment that provides extra oxygen to the tissues of the body through the lungs, a process known as respiration.

What is the information for this topic?
Oxygen is a colourless, odourless, tasteless gas that is essential for the body to function properly. The body needs oxygen to survive. The heart relies on oxygen to beat and pump blood. If not enough oxygen is circulating in the blood, it's hard for the tissues of the heart to keep pumping. Supplemental oxygen is used to treat medical conditions in which the tissues of body do not have enough oxygen, including:
  • asthma, a chronic disease causing intermittent narrowing of the airways
  • chronic bronchitis, with long-term irritation of the airways
  • anaemia, or a low red blood cell count
  • pneumonia
  • pulmonary oedema, a condition in which extra fluid accumulates in the lungs
  • congestive heart failure, a condition in which a weakened heart fails to pump enough blood to the body cells
Oxygen is also used to treat victims of smoke inhalation. It helps reduce the spasms and swelling that smoke causes in the lungs. Mountain climbers and pilots use supplemental oxygen when they are at heights where there is not enough oxygen in the atmosphere.

In the hospital, oxygen is used during surgery to help give anaesthesia. After surgery, a person may be given oxygen for a short time to help awaken from the anaesthesia. Oxygen is also given to improve the results of some treatments.

There are several ways to give oxygen. A compressed gas cylinder, called an oxygen tank, is the most common way. Oxygen is also given through a special unit called an oxygen concentrator. This device removes most of another gas, nitrogen, from the air, which makes the oxygen more concentrated.

The oxygen is delivered to the person from the oxygen tank or concentrator through tubing attached to a mask, a tent, or a nasal cannula. A nasal cannula is tubing that is placed a short distance into each nostril. The way oxygen is given depends on the person's age of the person and the condition being treated. Usually adults and older children use a nasal cannula. Children may need to use an oxygen mask or tent.

Oxygen is very drying to the tissues of the body, especially the nose. Distilled water is used to add moisture to the oxygen. The moisture protects the delicate lining of the nose.

Oxygen therapy can be given at home. Someone who has asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), or congestive heart failure may use oxygen at home. One of the goals of home oxygen therapy is to lessen the need for emergency department visits and hospital stays. The proven benefits include longer survival, fewer hospitalisations, and better quality of life. The person is taught how to use the oxygen tank, how to change the tubing, and when the oxygen needs to be used.

Hyperbaric oxygen (HBO) is another form of oxygen therapy. In this treatment, compressed oxygen is given at a high level of pressure. The person is placed inside a special pressure chamber. The chamber is a large tube with clear glass on the top and sides. The chamber is sealed and pressurised. The person then breathes 100% oxygen given at a pressure more than one and a half times the normal atmospheric pressure. HBO is used to treat many conditions, including: Oxygen therapy is an essential treatment in many conditions. But certain precautions must be taken when using oxygen. Oxygen and fire do not mix. Electrical equipment, such as heating pads, radios, and hair dryers, should be kept away from the area. No one should smoke where oxygen is being used. Any combustible material, such as alcohol, perfumes, and propane, must be kept away from oxygen tanks.

Author: Donna Lester, RN, PHN, BSN, CCM
Reviewer: HealthAnswers Australia Medical Review Panel
Editor: Dr David Taylor, Chief Medical Officer HealthAnswers Australia
Last Updated: 1/10/2001
Potential conflict of interest information for reviewers available on request

This website and article is not a substitute for independent professional advice. Nothing contained in this website is intended to be used as medical advice and it is not intended to be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes or as a substitute for your own health professional's advice.  All Health and any associated parties do not accept any liability for any injury, loss or damage incurred by use of or reliance on the information.


Back Email a Friend View Printable Version Bookmark This Page


eknowhow | The World's Best Websites
    Privacy Policy and Disclaimer