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8 Issues for Delivering Oxygen Remedy to COPD Sufferers


As COPD progresses, a mix of pathological modifications happen within the lungs which necessitate oxygen remedy, which can be delivered in each the acute care and residential care settings.

By Invoice Pruitt, MBA, RRT, CPFT, FAARC

COPD is outlined by the 2022 International Initiative for Continual Obstructive Lung Illness report (GOLD 2022) as “a standard, preventable, and treatable illness that is because of airway and/or alveolar abnormalities normally attributable to important publicity to noxious particles and gases.”1 Tobacco smoking is the primary threat issue.

As COPD progresses, a mix of pathological modifications happen within the lungs which incorporates harm to the alveoli, retained secretions clogging the airways, lowered airflow, irritation that reduces airway diameter, retention of carbon dioxide (CO2), lowered blood oxygen ranges, air trapping, and untimely collapse of the airways. Oxygen remedy is required to deal with hypoxemia and could also be delivered in each the acute care and residential care settings. This text will discover eight issues in oxygen remedy for COPD sufferers.

1. Establishing the Want and the Quantity to Administer

Oxygen remedy is required when hypoxemia is current. Within the acute care setting standards, many use a SpO2 of 90% as a threshold for beginning oxygen remedy. Within the house care setting, the Medicare pointers have a number of conditions which justify oxygen remedy.  An arterial blood fuel displaying a PaO2 <55 mm Hg and SaO2 < 88% is the primary and first case. Different circumstances akin to edema in decrease extremities, ECG modifications, polycythemia, and drops in blood oxygen throughout sleep or when exercising enable for little greater PaO2 and SaO2 to qualify for O2 remedy (see Desk 1 for extra particulars).1,2

Most COPD sufferers will begin on low move oxygen remedy through a nasal cannula at move charges enough to being the oxygen ranges as much as a minimal SpO2 of 88 – 90%. For a lot of this requires 1 to three or 4 liters per minute move. The precise delivered FIO2 through a cannula is just not recognized and may differ because the affected person modifications inspiratory move and inspiratory quantity. In circumstances the place a managed FIO2 is required, an air-entrainment masks (venti-mask) utilizing a set FIO2 of 24% or 28% might be used. If hypoxemia persists within the acute care setting, greater flows and better FIO2 settings with different gadgets could also be utilized, however with sure COPD sufferers, there are dangers concerned with transferring into the upper settings (extra on this later).

As soon as oxygen remedy is initiated, the affected person’s blood oxygen ranges must be monitored and the remedy must be titrated right down to decrease oxygen move charges and decrease FiO2 ranges as tolerated. This may increasingly additionally contain switching from one system to a different (i.e. from an air entrainment masks to a cannula). Sufferers with extreme resting persistent hypoxemia have improved survival charges when long-term oxygen remedy (LTOT) is used. LTOT is outlined as >15 hours/day use of oxygen.1

2. Dangers in Offering Oxygen Remedy to COPD Sufferers

Two speculation clarify the issue of accelerating CO2 that’s typically encountered whereas offering oxygen remedy in COPD. The primary speculation pertains to respiratory drive. Elevated CO2 ranges within the blood present set off the mind to ship the sign to the pulmonary system for respiration. Over time, COPD sufferers could start to retain CO2 and in some sufferers, this rising stage blunts the mind’s CO2 response – the mind basically learns to tolerate greater CO2. As one writer places it, the mind responds to this downside by adopting a coverage of “‘can’t breathe, so gained’t breathe,” or “say-uncle.” 3 The mind then shifts to the back-up set off for respiration – specifically lowering blood oxygen ranges. If an excessive amount of supplemental oxygen is given to the sufferers who’re counting on blood O2 to set off respiration, the necessity to breath is lowered leading to excessive ranges of CO2.

The second speculation is said to modifications in V/Q with supplemental oxygen. Hypoxemia causes pulmonary vasoconstriction to scale back blood move in areas of low (or ineffective) alveolar air flow (together with malfunctioning alveoli) to areas which have extra regular air flow. The pulmonary vasculature opens in response to aid from hypoxemia by oxygen remedy whereas air flow stays the identical because of the limitations of the lung within the face of COPD alterations. With this V/Q change –the tip outcome is a rise in lifeless area air flow and rising blood CO2 ranges.4 In mild of this downside with hypercarbia (greater CO2), these sufferers have to have rigorously managed FiO2 shut monitoring to goal for goal saturation of 88-92%.1,4 With both speculation, an excessive amount of oxygen may cause elevated hypercarbia.

3. Lengthy-term Oxygen Remedy (LTOT)

The necessity for LTOT is confirmed by arterial blood gases (most suitable choice) or dependable, verified pulse oximetry that reveals hypoxemia. As soon as the necessity has been established and remedy has began, the affected person must be re-evaluated by ABG or oximetry after 60 to 90 days to guarantee that supplemental oxygen remains to be wanted and that the prescription is efficient in treating hypoxemia.1 A examine printed in 2001 from New Zealand discovered that over a 3rd of the sufferers began on LTOT didn’t have to proceed the remedy when checked two months later.5

In one other examine from 2008, the researchers discovered {that a} third of sufferers with extreme COPD had been prescribed house oxygen regardless of having no resting hypoxemia and that these sufferers ended up with the next mortality than those that didn’t obtain oxygen.2,6 (Gadgets used for provide and supply of O2 remedy might be lined later.) Earlier than beginning LTOT, sufferers ought to have stopped smoking since any open flame close to oxygen provides will increase the danger of fireside. Sufferers additionally want be instructed about questions of safety associated to different sources of open flames akin to a fuel range, hearth, and many others, and instructed on decreasing the autumn threat from LTOT (ie tripping on provide tubing). 5,6

4. Nocturnal Issues

For COPD sufferers with LTOT, evaluation of oxygen ranges throughout sleep could present that regardless of receiving the prescribed oxygen, nocturnal desaturations could happen. Usually the first care supplier will instruct the affected person to extend their oxygen move charge by 1 LPM throughout sleep to assist keep away from nocturnal desaturation.2,8

As famous in Desk 1, Medicare pointers present some consideration for desaturations throughout sleep. The issue with nocturnal desaturation could also be much more a difficulty if the affected person has any issues with sleep disordered respiration akin to obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) or hypopnea. These circumstances must be handled along with points with hypoxemia.

Desk 1  Standards to Qualify for Medicare protection for House Oxygen Remedy2,7
Medicare will present protection for house O2 remedy if the affected person is in one of many following 4 teams:

  1. Resting PaO2 < 55 mm Hg (or SaO2 < 88%)
  2. Resting or train PaO2 < 59 mm Hg (or SaO2 < 89%) with any of the next:
    • Edema in decrease extremities
    • ECG reveals P pulmonale (P wave >3 mm in lead II, III, or AVF)
    • Polycythemia (hematocrit > 56%)
  3. Exertion causes drop in oxygen PaO2 < 55 mm Hg (or SaO2 < 88%) and documented enchancment utilizing oxygen in exertion
  4. If the affected person’s oxygen stage is appropriate when awake (PaO2 > 56 mm Hg (or SaO2 > 89%) and whereas asleep any of the next happens:
    • PaO2 < 55 mm Hg (or SaO2 < 88%) for no less than 5 minutes or
      • PaO2 drops > 10 mm Hg from baseline or SaO2 drops >5% from baseline or no less than 5 minutes and indicators or signs of hypoxemia happen
    • PaO2 < 59 mm Hg (or SaO2 < 89%) for no less than 5 minutes together with any of the next
      • Edema in decrease extremities
      • ECG reveals P pulmonale (P wave >3 mm in lead II, III, or AVF)
      • Polycythemia (hematocrit > 56%)

5. Train

Oxygen consumption will increase throughout train and supplemental oxygen could improve train capability in COPD sufferers who desaturate to <88%  or in COPD sufferers who don’t desaturate however have dyspnea and ventilatory abnormalities throughout train. 8, 9 If a affected person doesn’t want oxygen at relaxation however wants it throughout train (together with strolling), the SpO2 must be documented on room air throughout relaxation, on room air with train, and whereas receiving oxygen throughout train to find out the prescription for ‘’ambulatory oxygen.” 8

6. Air Journey

Industrial airways normally attain a cruising altitude of round 30,000 ft above sea stage and  pressurize the cabin to the equal of about 8,000 ft (akin to respiration a room air FiO2 of 15% as an alternative of 21%).6 For COPD sufferers, the low cabin pressurize could trigger hypoxemia because of the low barometric stress. Sufferers with a resting SpO2 < 92% must be given supplemental oxygen throughout air journey.7  The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has an inventory of some 21 moveable oxygen concentrators (POC) which can be approve for flying. (See the FAA web site reference 9).

7. Gadgets for Oxygen Supply

Many COPD sufferers can efficiently obtain O2 remedy through nasal cannula. Nevertheless, there are a number of different supply gadgets obtainable, and relying on the acuity of the affected person, a number of gadgets could also be used to produce the correct quantity of oxygen with acceptable, applicable inspiratory move charges and FiO2.  See Desk 2 for an inventory of probably the most usually used supply gadgets. Low move supply gadgets are gadgets that don’t meet or exceed the affected person’s inspiratory move. With these gadgets, the affected person entrains room air together with the supplemental oxygen and the FiO2 is variable. Excessive move supply gadgets exceed the affected person’s inspiratory move and have a recognized, mounted FiO2.

Desk 2. Oxygen Supply Gadgets for COPD Sufferers10-11

Low move supply gadgets O2 Movement charge (LPM) Approximate FiO2
Nasal cannula 1-6 0.24-0.44
Easy face masks 5-8 0.40-0.60
Partial rebreathing masks 6-10 0.60-0.80
Non rebreathing masks 10-15 0.90-1.00
Excessive move supply gadgets O2 Movement charge (LPM) Approximate FiO2 Delivered move (LPM) 
Venturi masks 2-15 0.24-0.60 40-60
Excessive move nasal cannula set by blender 0.21-1.00 20-60

8. Gadgets for O2 provide

Oxygen within the acute care setting is normally delivered by the O2 piping system with the availability being a bulk liquid oxygen container positioned exterior the hospital and refilled by a fuel provide firm through tanker truck. Within the house care setting, oxygen could also be equipped by cylinders, liquid oxygen, concentrators, or moveable oxygen concentrators (POC).2 Concentrators and POCs are probably the most usually utilized gadgets and the house could have cylinders as a back-up to produce oxygen throughout a lack of electrical energy.

The latest gadgets available on the market are the POCs which permit for simpler mobility in ambulatory sufferers as they’re small, light-weight, and able to working on a battery energy provide. Concentrators can present oxygen move charges from 1 to 10 LPM with an oxygen purity of 90 +5%.2 Pulse-dose supply methods that present a burst of oxygen or an intermittent move may be added to produce gadgets to maximise efficacy and use {of electrical} energy (ie, battery).


Oxygen remedy for COPD sufferers extends life, permits for extra train capability, reduces hypoxemia, and improves high quality of life. Supplemental oxygen must be prescribed with care and with particular particulars included to make sure protected, efficient remedy. Specific circumstances akin to train, journey, and night-time conditions must be thought of and directions offered to the provider and affected person to cowl these circumstances (if applicable). Respiratory therapists must be educated about all features of oxygen remedy and included in all venues, from the acute care to the house setting, to assist make sure the affected person is offered one of the best of care.


Invoice Pruitt, MBA, RRT, CPFT, FAARC, is a author, lecturer, and guide. He has over 40 years of expertise in respiratory care, and has over 20 years instructing on the College of South Alabama in Cardiorespiratory Care. Now retired from instructing, he continues to supply visitor lectures and write.


  1. From the 2022 International Initiative for Continual Obstructive Lung Illness web site. Accessed 10/28/2022.
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