Your body needs a certain amount of oxygen for its organs to function properly. But as idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) progresses, the fibrosis prevents enough oxygen from being transferred into your bloodstream. This is why your doctor may prescribe supplemental oxygen therapy as part of your care. (Learn how your lungs work.)
Many IPF experts believe that all people with IPF should be evaluated to see whether oxygen therapy can help them improve their low oxygen levels. Low oxygen levels may occur during exercise, during sleep, or may be present when the person is at rest. When they occur will affect how often you need to use oxygen. Oxygen therapy has been demonstrated to be helpful to patients who have low oxygen levels across a variety of serious lung conditions. Even though the data supporting its use are limited, current medical guidelines recommend using oxygen therapy in appropriate patients with IPF.
Your doctor will use tests, such as an arterial blood gas test and a pulse oximetry test, to determine whether you need oxygen therapy and, if so, how often and how much. These tests measure how much oxygen is in your blood. A low level of oxygen is a sign that you need oxygen therapy.
How Oxygen Is Delivered
Oxygen therapy is provided in a metal cylinder or other container. It flows through a tube and is delivered to your lungs in one of the following ways:
Two small plastic tubes, or prongs, that fit within both of your nostrils
Fits over your nose and mouth and straps onto your head
Transtracheal (“tranz-TRAY-kee-ul”) oxygen therapy
A minor surgical procedure is performed to insert a small tube into your windpipe through the front of your neck
This is the least common form of oxygen therapy
Your doctor will work with you to determine which type of oxygen delivery device you should use, as well as how much oxygen you need and how often.
The Possible Benefits and Risks of Oxygen Therapy
The use of supplemental oxygen in people with IPF who have low oxygen levels at rest has been shown to:
Reduce general breathlessness
Sustain their ability to perform activities (such as exercise) that may be part of a pulmonary rehabilitation program
Possibly maintain their ability to take part in daily activities in preparation for a lung transplant
In addition to reducing breathlessness, in studies of people using oxygen therapy to treat COPD, patients reported that oxygen therapy improved their ability to perform everyday activities such as cleaning, reading, and shaving.
However, it’s important to note that there are a number of risks that come along with using oxygen therapy, including a number of possible complications and side effects, such as:
Dry or bloody nose
Skin irritation from the nasal cannula or face mask
Fatigue or morning headaches
Tell your doctor if these problems persist. Your doctor may be able to help relieve some or all of these issues.
If you start using home oxygen therapy, you should ask your home equipment provider to give you a complete list of safety steps you'll need to follow.
The Importance of Sticking with Your Therapy
Remember to use oxygen therapy as prescribed by your doctor. While some people may feel embarrassed by having to use oxygen therapy in public, remember that it’s an important medical therapy. Low blood oxygen levels can lead to additional health problems. Your need to use oxygen therapy shouldn’t prevent you from taking part in social activities.