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BEACON Senior News - Western Colorado

Insider tips about living with oxygen therapy

Aug 02, 2018 05:22AM ● By Amy Abbott

An old cliché says “as easy as breathing.” For millions of seniors, breathing doesn’t come easily without the assistance of oxygen therapy. According to the American Thoracic Society, our body needs about 22 percent oxygen for our cells to work correctly. Individuals with compromised lungs may not get enough oxygen into their blood and need help.

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) will be the world’s third leading cause of death by 2030. COPD and diseases like asthma and congestive heart failure may worsen enough to require the patient to need oxygen therapy.

Even though I’ve suffered from chronic bronchitis and asthma for more than 25 years, I had no idea that supplemental oxygen was in my future. When I shared a range of diverse, new symptoms with my pulmonologist, he ordered a battery of tests. Hours later, a home medical technician was at our home with a confusing array of equipment.

My husband and I were utterly unprepared for the change in our lives. But nearly a year later, I’ve adjusted—I wear my oxygen all night, and sometimes during the day, depending on weather conditions.

If you need oxygen therapy, here’s an outline of the equipment you’ll need and how oxygen therapy helps you breathe easier. Please note, your home medical provider may offer you a slightly different setup or equipment. My choices are meant to be descriptive, not prescriptive.

The at-home concentrator, about the same size as R2D2 from “Star Wars,” is the source for your home oxygen. It requires little maintenance; I wash the two filters monthly with dish soap. My machine is loud and hot, and I keep it in my home office close to a wall outlet.

Tubing (from 50 feet down to six feet) connects to your concentrator on one end and a cannula on the other, which fits in your nose.

Emergency tanks supply your oxygen in case the power goes out. Mine is a 12-hour tank (based on the oxygen I use), but I have yet to use it. The home medical supplier told me it will be replaced once a year, even if it’s still full.

Portable oxygen usually comes in smaller 25-pound tanks with four hours’ worth of oxygen.

Initially, the home medical provider brought me several portable tanks, which I would lug into my car every morning before I went to work. Lifting 75 pounds into the car every morning when my oxygen was usually at its lowest was a deal-breaker. As a hospital marketing executive, I attended meetings and facility visits in the community, which meant dragging a tank in and out of the car multiple times a day. This wasn’t going to work for me.

I asked for another option, and now rent a portable oxygen concentrator that makes oxygen from room air. My unit weighs about five pounds and is far superior to the bulky green tanks.

Check with your insurance provider before you rent a device or purchase one.

More advice

• Purchase a pulse oximeter so you can monitor your own oxygen use. Some phones have oxygen apps.

• Notify your electric company that you are on oxygen. In case of a power outage, you’ll be on the priority list.

• Place an “oxygen in use” sign near your front door. Smoking and oxygen therapy go together like kindling and a match.

• Watch your electric bill and turn the lights off because you’ll see an increase in usage from your at-home concentrator.

• Replace your tubing and cannulas every few weeks. I pick up a month’s worth from the home medical office. You can also buy them online or in durable medical equipment stores. You may want to try different cannulas, as some are softer than others.

• Oxygen may dry out your nasal cavities and lead to nosebleeds in some people. Make sure your home is well-humidified or use nasal saline or gel.

• Always consult your physician. I don’t let oxygen therapy cramp my style. Going on oxygen doesn’t mean you’re imprisoned in your home. Climbing the steep, curvy stairs of a New York theatre recently, I bested my husband to the top with my portable tank on. That would have never happened before!

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