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Oxygen Therapy

Treatment Overview

Oxygen therapy helps you get more oxygen into your lungs and bloodstream. You may use it if you have a disease that makes it hard to breathe, such as COPD, pulmonary fibrosis (scarring of the lungs), or heart failure. Oxygen therapy can make it easier for you to breathe and can reduce your heart's workload.

Some people need extra oxygen all the time. Others need it from time to time throughout the day or overnight. A doctor will prescribe how much oxygen you need and how often to use it.

To breathe the oxygen, most people use a nasal cannula (say "KAN-yuh-luh"). This is a thin tube with two prongs that fit just inside your nose. People who need a lot of oxygen may need to use a mask that fits over the nose and mouth.

Delivery systems

The oxygen used in oxygen therapy can be delivered in a few different ways:

  • Concentrators take oxygen from the air. They are the least expensive.
  • Cylinders, or tanks, of compressed or pressurized oxygen gas come in several sizes. You might use a large tank as backup in your home and have smaller tanks for use outside the home.
  • Liquid oxygen takes up less room than oxygen gas. Because of this, smaller and lighter containers can hold more oxygen.

There are two ways to get the oxygen into your lungs:

  • The nasal cannula is a flexible plastic tube inserted in your nostrils. It gives you the greatest freedom for moving around and talking.
  • A face mask may be a good choice if you need a higher flow of oxygen. But a face mask is less portable and gets in the way of talking and eating.

Why It Is Done

Oxygen therapy increases the amount of oxygen in your lungs and bloodstream. You may need oxygen therapy if tests show that the cells of your body are not getting enough oxygen. This may happen if you have pneumonia, lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), acute respiratory disease syndrome (ARDS), or other conditions.


In most cases, there are no risks from oxygen therapy as long as you follow your doctor's instructions. But oxygen is a fire hazard, so make sure to follow safety rules. Do not use oxygen around lit cigarettes, open flames, or anything flammable.

Oxygen is usually prescribed to raise the PaO2 to between 60 and 65 mm Hg or the saturations from 90% to 92%. Higher flow rates usually don't help. They can even be dangerous.

Related Information


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