The Dangers Associated with Oxygen Therapy

Oxygen. It’s vital for life. When individuals breathe healthfully, they enjoy the benefits of blood oxygenation, which fuels cells, tissues, and vital organs. However, when oxygen levels are low, patients can experience many negative side effects, including chronic fatigue, heart palpitations, anxiety, headaches, dizziness, muscle weakness, declined brain function, and shortness of breath.

Because breathing is such as vital bodily process, if an injury or chronic health condition (COPD) impairs the body from taking in adequate oxygen, supplemental oxygen, delivered via a medical device known as an oxygen concentrator, may be deemed necessary by your healthcare provider. While oxygen therapy is very effective when used safely and according to doctor’s orders, there are also a few negatives associated with supplemental oxygen therapy, including:

1. Risk of explosion or fire
Even though most oxygen tanks provided as medical aids aren’t flammable, oxygen poses a combustion risk if patients or household members choose to smoke while using an oxygen concentrator unit. Oxygen devices and tanks should also never be installed or set close to an open heat of flame source (i.e., electric or wood stove), or any products containing petroleum.

2. Nasal irritation
If you’re oxygen tank is hooked up to a nasal cannula (as opposed to a facemask), the fitted nozzles that rest inside the nostrils can become irritated, inflamed, dry and red with long-term use. To prevent or soothe minor nasal irritations, a cooling gel can be applied around the openings of each nostril. Serious infections should be brought to the attention of a doctor in case of infection.

3. Respiratory dryness
The constant intake of supplemental oxygen can result in irritation and dryness inside the respiratory tract (from nostrils to inner nasal passages). For this reason, many healthcare providers prescribe an over the counter saline nasal mist, which hydrates and lubricates the nose and nasal passages to prevent irritation and infection.

4. Breathing suppression
It’s counterintuitive that a medical device to aid breathing may suppress the actual drive to breathe. However, some patients who use oxygen therapy over the long term may notice further breathing difficulties over time. For this reason, it’s imperative to never increase your oxygen dosage without clear doctor approval.

5. Oxygen toxicity
Moderation is the key to everything, including oxygen, which can be fatal when inhaled to excess. In fact, the American Association of Respiratory Care warns that while supplemental oxygen aims to increase inadequate blood oxygen level, an excess of oxygen taken in too high doses within a certain time frame can reduce respiratory drive leading to respiratory distress, respiratory failure, and even death.