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Champion HHC Health Information Library

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Oxygen Therapy

What is oxygen?

Oxygen is a gas that your body needs to work properly. Your cells need oxygen to make energy. Your lungs absorb oxygen from the air you breathe. The oxygen enters your blood from your lungs and travels to your organs and body tissues.

Certain medical conditions can cause your blood oxygen levels to be too low. Low blood oxygen may make you feel short of breath, tired, or confused. It can also damage your body. Oxygen therapy can help you get more oxygen.

What is oxygen therapy?

Oxygen therapy is a treatment that provides you with extra oxygen to breathe in. It is also called supplemental oxygen. It is only available through a prescription from your health care provider. You may get it in the hospital, another medical setting, or at home. Some people only need it for a short period of time. Others will need long-term oxygen therapy.

There are different types of devices that can give you oxygen. Some use tanks of liquid or gas oxygen. Others use an oxygen concentrator, which pulls oxygen out of the air. You will get the oxygen through a nose tube (cannula), a mask, or a tent. The extra oxygen is breathed in along with normal air.

There are portable versions of the tanks and oxygen concentrators. They can make it easier for you to move around while using your therapy.

Who needs oxygen therapy?

You may need oxygen therapy if you have a condition that causes low blood oxygen, such as

  • COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)
  • Pneumonia
  • COVID-19
  • A severe asthma attack
  • Late-stage heart failure
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Sleep apnea
What are the risks of using oxygen therapy?

Oxygen therapy is generally safe, but it can cause side effects. They include a dry or bloody nose, tiredness, and morning headaches.

Oxygen poses a fire risk, so you should never smoke or use flammable materials when using oxygen. If you use oxygen tanks, make sure your tank is secured and stays upright. If it falls and cracks or the top breaks off, the tank can fly like a missile.

What is hyperbaric oxygen therapy?

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) is a different type of oxygen therapy. It involves breathing oxygen in a pressurized chamber or tube. This allows your lungs to gather up to three times more oxygen than you would get by breathing oxygen at normal air pressure. The extra oxygen moves through your blood and to your organs and body tissues. HBOT is used to treat certain serious wounds, burns, injuries, and infections. It also treats air or gas embolisms (bubbles of air in your bloodstream), decompression sickness suffered by divers, and carbon monoxide poisoning.

But some treatment centers claim that HBOT can treat almost anything, including HIV/AIDS, Alzheimer's disease, autism, and cancer. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not cleared or approved the use of HBOT for these conditions. There are risks to using HBOT, so always check with your primary health care provider before you try it.

NIH: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute

Plague

Plague is an infection caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis. The bacteria are found mainly in rats and in the fleas that feed on them. People and other animals can get plague from rat or flea bites. In the past, plague destroyed entire civilizations. Today plague is uncommon, due to better living conditions and antibiotics.

There are three forms of plague:

  • Bubonic plague causes the tonsils, adenoids, spleen, and thymus to become inflamed. Symptoms include fever, aches, chills, and tender lymph glands.
  • In septicemic plague, bacteria multiply in the blood. It causes fever, chills, shock, and bleeding under the skin or other organs.
  • Pneumonic plague is the most serious form. Bacteria enter the lungs and cause pneumonia. People with the infection can spread this form to others. This type could be a bioterror agent.

Lab tests can diagnose plague. Treatment is a strong antibiotic. There is no vaccine.

Poisoning

A poison is any substance that is harmful to your body. You might swallow it, inhale it, inject it, or absorb it through your skin. Any substance can be poisonous if too much is taken. Poisons can include

  • Prescription or over-the-counter medicines taken in doses that are too high
  • Overdoses of illegal drugs
  • Carbon monoxide from gas appliances
  • Household products, such as laundry powder or furniture polish
  • Pesticides
  • Indoor or outdoor plants
  • Metals such as lead and mercury

The effects of poisoning range from short-term illness to brain damage, coma, and death. To prevent poisoning it is important to use and store products exactly as their labels say. Keep dangerous products where children can't get to them. Treatment for poisoning depends on the type of poison. If you suspect someone has been poisoned, call your local poison control center at 1-800-222-1222 right away.

Progressive Supranuclear Palsy

What is progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP)?

Progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP) is a rare brain disease. It happens because of damage to nerve cells in the brain. PSP affects your movement, including control of your walking and balance. It also affects your thinking and eye movement.

PSP is progressive, which means that it gets worse over time.

What causes progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP)?

The cause of PSP is unknown. In rare cases, the cause is a mutation in a certain gene.

One sign of PSP is abnormal clumps of tau in nerve cells in the brain. Tau is a protein in your nervous system, including in nerve cells. Some other diseases also cause a buildup of tau in the brain, including Alzheimer's disease.

Who is at risk for progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP)?

PSP usually affects people over 60, but in some cases it can start earlier. It is more common in men.

What are the symptoms of progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP)?

Symptoms are very different in each person, but they may include

  • A loss of balance while walking. This is often the first symptom.
  • Speech problems
  • Trouble swallowing
  • A blurring of vision and problems controlling eye movement
  • Changes in mood and behavior, including depression and apathy (a loss of interest and enthusiasm)
  • Mild dementia
How is progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP0 diagnosed?

There is no specific test for PSP. It can be difficult to diagnose, because the symptoms are similar to other diseases such as Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's disease.

To make a diagnosis, your health care provider will take your medical history and do physical and neurological exams. You may have an MRI or other imaging tests.

What are the treatments for progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP)?

There is currently no effective treatment for PSP. Medicines may reduce some symptoms. Some non-drug treatments, such as walking aids and special glasses, may also help. People with severe swallowing problems may need gastrostomy. This is a surgery to insert a feeding tube into the stomach.

PSP gets worse over time. Many people become severely disabled within three to five years after getting it. PSP isn't life-threatening on its own. It can still be be dangerous, because it increases your risk of pneumonia, choking from swallowing problems, and injuries from falling. But with good attention to medical and nutritional needs, many people with PSP can live 10 or more years after the first symptoms of the disease.

NIH: National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke

Respiratory Failure

What is respiratory failure?

Respiratory failure is a condition in which your blood doesn't have enough oxygen or has too much carbon dioxide. Sometimes you can have both problems.

When you breathe, your lungs take in oxygen. The oxygen passes into your blood, which carries it to your organs. Your organs, such as your heart and brain, need this oxygen-rich blood to work well.

Another part of breathing is removing the carbon dioxide from the blood and breathing it out. Having too much carbon dioxide in your blood can harm your organs.

What causes respiratory failure?

Conditions that affect your breathing can cause respiratory failure. These conditions may affect the muscles, nerves, bones, or tissues that support breathing. Or they may affect the lungs directly. These conditions include

  • Diseases that affect the lungs, such as COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), cystic fibrosis, pneumonia, pulmonary embolism, and COVID-19
  • Conditions that affect the nerves and muscles that control breathing, such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), muscular dystrophy, spinal cord injuries, and stroke
  • Problems with the spine, such as scoliosis (a curve in the spine). They can affect the bones and muscles used for breathing.
  • Damage to the tissues and ribs around the lungs. An injury to the chest can cause this damage.
  • Drug or alcohol overdose
  • Inhalation injuries, such as from inhaling smoke (from fires) or harmful fumes
What are the symptoms of respiratory failure?

The symptoms of respiratory failure depend on the cause and the levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide in your blood.

A low oxygen level in the blood can cause shortness of breath and air hunger (the feeling that you can't breathe in enough air). Your skin, lips, and fingernails may also have a bluish color. A high carbon dioxide level can cause rapid breathing and confusion.

Some people who have respiratory failure may become very sleepy or lose consciousness. They also may have arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat). You may have these symptoms if your brain and heart are not getting enough oxygen.

How is respiratory failure diagnosed?

Your health care provider will diagnose respiratory failure based on

  • Your medical history
  • A physical exam, which often includes
    • Listening to your lungs to check for abnormal sounds
    • Listening to your heart to check for arrhythmia
    • Looking for a bluish color on your skin, lips, and fingernails
  • Diagnostic tests, such as
    • Pulse oximetry, a small sensor that uses a light to measure how much oxygen is in your blood. The sensor goes on the end of your finger or on your ear.
    • Arterial blood gas test, a test that measures the oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in your blood. The blood sample is taken from an artery, usually in your wrist.

Once you are diagnosed with respiratory failure, your provider will look for what is causing it. Tests for this often include a chest x-ray. If your provider thinks you may have arrhythmia because of the respiratory failure, you may have an EKG (electrocardiogram). This is simple, painless test that detects and records your heart's electrical activity.

What are the treatments for respiratory failure?

Treatment for respiratory failure depends on

  • Whether it is acute (short-term) or chronic (ongoing)
  • How severe it is
  • What is causing it

Acute respiratory failure can be a medical emergency. You may need treatment in intensive care unit at a hospital. Chronic respiratory failure can often be treated at home. But if your chronic respiratory failure is severe, you might need treatment in a long-term care center.

One of the main goals of treatment is to get oxygen to your lungs and other organs and remove carbon dioxide from your body. Another goal is to treat the cause of the condition. Treatments may include

  • Oxygen therapy, through a nasal cannula (two small plastic tubes that go in your nostrils) or through a mask that fits over your nose and mouth
  • Tracheostomy, a surgically-made hole that goes through the front of your neck and into your windpipe. A breathing tube, also called a tracheostomy, or trach tube, is placed in the hole to help you breathe.
  • Ventilator, a breathing machine that blows air into your lungs. It also carries carbon dioxide out of your lungs.
  • Other breathing treatments, such as noninvasive positive pressure ventilation (NPPV), which uses mild air pressure to keep your airways open while you sleep. Another treatment is a special bed that rocks back and forth, to help you breathe in and out.
  • Fluids, often through an intravenous (IV), to improve blood flow throughout your body. They also provide nutrition.
  • Medicines for discomfort
  • Treatments for the cause of the respiratory failure. These treatments may include medicines and procedures.

If you have respiratory failure, see your health care provider for ongoing medical care. Your provider may suggest pulmonary rehabilitation.

If your respiratory failure is chronic, make sure that you know when and where to get help for your symptoms. You need emergency care if you have severe symptoms, such as trouble catching your breath or talking. You should call your provider if you notice that your symptoms are worsening or if you have new signs and symptoms.

Living with respiratory failure may cause fear, anxiety, depression, and stress. Talk therapy, medicines, and support groups can help you feel better.

NIH: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute