14 Questions to Ask Your Pulmonologist About Supplemental Oxygen Therapy


Supplemental oxygen is a type of medical therapy used to treat chronic lung conditions like cystic fibrosis, pulmonary fibrosis, and COPD. The aim of supplemental oxygen is to maintain a patient’s blood oxygen levels which are vital for systemic health. Every organ in the body requires oxygen in order to function properly, so using supplemental oxygen as it’s advised by your doctor can provide you with immense short- and long-term benefits.


Despite how important supplemental oxygen is for respiratory patients, receiving a prescription for oxygen therapy can be a scary experience. You likely have a lot of thoughts and concerns running through your mind and you’re likely overwhelmed by the prospect of being connected to an oxygen delivery device. While these concerns are certainly justified, it’s important to take a step back and begin to clarify your concerns with your doctor. Chances are, as you learn more about oxygen therapy and become more experienced with using it, many of your concerns will begin to disappear.


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To help you organize your thoughts, we’re going to be discussing 14 questions you should ask your pulmonologist about supplemental oxygen therapy. Feel free to either print out this article or take notes so that you know exactly what to ask your doctor during your next visit. If you enjoy this article and you’re looking for more information, be sure to read through our post titled “16 Questions You Should Ask Your Doctor About COPD.”


1.) Is Oxygen a Necessity or a Suggestion?

Chances are, you or someone that you know has fallen back on a prescription at some point. Either you never make it to the pharmacy to pick up your medication or you simply stop using the medication for one reason or another. This Harvard Medical report states that many people either forget to use their medication, or they never fill it due to high copayments. So, naturally, you might wonder whether or not your oxygen therapy prescription will follow a similar trend. As a general rule of thumb, you should take what your doctor says seriously, because it’s unlikely that he/she would make you go out of your way or spend extra money on something that isn’t necessary. However, it doesn’t hurt to address these concerns so that your doctor can clarify the rationale behind your oxygen prescription.




2.) What are the Benefits of Oxygen Therapy?

The second thing you should ask your pulmonary doctor about are the benefits you can expect to reap from using supplemental oxygen. The air around us contains about 21% oxygen, but for someone with impaired lung function, this is not always enough for them to sustain their blood oxygen levels. The goal of oxygen therapy is to provide the lungs with a higher concentration of oxygen in order to reduce the load on the lungs. You may experience additional benefits from using supplemental oxygen based on the severity of your disease. Be sure to ask your doctor about this. 


Oxygen tank


3.) What is My Flow Rate?

Your flow rate determines the amount of oxygen that you will be receiving when you put on the nasal cannula. It’s imperative that you know the exact amount of oxygen that you should be receiving because inhaling too much oxygen can lead to a condition called oxygen toxicity. This condition results in dizziness, fatigue, nausea, and eventual lung damage. Conversely, receiving too little oxygen will not provide you with the full benefits of supplemental oxygen. 


G5 user interface


Oxygen flow is measured using one of two different measurements. Pulse dose oxygen devices are measured in milliliters per minute (ml/min) and continuous flow oxygen devices are measured in liters per minute (LPM). The amount of oxygen that you’re prescribed will be based on the severity of your respiratory impairment, but generally speaking, most people need less than 2 LPM of oxygen.


4.) How Many Hours a Day Should I Use Oxygen?

Knowing how long you should be using oxygen is just as important as knowing your oxygen flow setting. If you’re using oxygen inconsistently, you might see a lot of your respiratory symptoms start to return. Long-term oxygen therapy is usually done for at least several hours a day, and your doctor will work with you to determine the best time to use it. If your doctor prescribes you with 24/7 oxygen, then you should discuss with your doctor about using an oxygen concentrator which doesn’t need to be refilled constantly like oxygen tanks or liquid oxygen tanks.




5.) What Type of Oxygen Device Should I Buy?

You might be surprised to find out how many oxygen devices there are on the market. You’ll have a whole host of options to choose from including traditional oxygen tanks, liquid oxygen tanks, stationary oxygen concentrators, and portable oxygen concentrators. But as someone who’s new to supplemental oxygen, you likely don’t know where to even begin with choosing one of these. Your doctor will likely have some information for you regarding which oxygen devices you should avoid and which ones you should consider.


Man and woman with oxygen concentrator


It’s important to be careful when you’re purchasing an oxygen device. You may encounter companies that try to sell you oxygen without a prescription or that boasts prices that are significantly lower than any other company. However, these are most likely scams. Before making any decisions, be sure to research the company that you’re buying from to make sure that their products are reliable and that they follow all laws and regulations. For more information about how the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates oxygen, please visit this page


If you need a quick reference the ARYA Airtivo Max is a pulse flow portable oxygen concentrator that only weights 4.2 pounds, and has pulse flow operational setting from 1 through 6. This is a best selling oxygen device. It is very popular among oxygen users that live active lifestyles. The battery powered device are great for travel and everyday activities! 


6.) Is it Okay to Adjust My Flow Rate Depending on How I’m Feeling?

If you have a chronic respiratory condition like COPD or pulmonary fibrosis, it’s not uncommon for symptoms to come and go. One day, you might be out of breath or lightheaded and the next you could feel perfectly fine. Because of this, you’re going to want to clarify with your doctor when it’s okay to adjust your oxygen flow and when you should not adjust your oxygen flow. The reason it’s important to ask this question is because your increase in symptoms may be due to something completely unrelated to your blood oxygen levels. In which case, increasing your oxygen flow would not benefit you.


Caire FreeStyle Comfort


7.) How Can I Track My Blood Oxygen Level?

A pulse oximeter, or pulse ox device, clips onto your finger and measures the saturation of oxygen in your blood (SpO2). They are noninvasive and they work by passing rays of light through your finger to measure the amount of oxygen-carrying hemoglobin. While they aren’t the most accurate method of measuring blood oxygen levels, they are very lightweight and portable meaning you can pack one in your purse or handbag for easy access. If your doctor hasn’t already provided you with one, it’s worth mentioning it so that you have a way of monitoring your oxygen levels. To learn more about blood oxygen levels, read this post.

Pulse oximeter device


8.) Is Oxygen Therapy Safe?

Since oxygen is a controlled substance in the United States and requires a prescription, you may be wondering if it’s even safe to use in the first place. The answer to this question is “yes,” however, there are some things you should be aware of. Firstly, as aforementioned, using more oxygen than you’re prescribed will put you at risk of experiencing oxygen toxicity. Secondly, the safety of oxygen therapy depends heavily on the type of oxygen device you’re using. 


Traditional oxygen tanks are the most dangerous because they contain compressed oxygen and they’re also heavy and bulky. Portable oxygen concentrators are the least dangerous oxygen device because they are lightweight and do not contain compressed oxygen. Oxygen is an “oxidizer” meaning it increases the flammability of anything it comes into contact with. So, you should never smoke near your oxygen device or use it near an open flame.


9.) Should I Be On Oxygen When I Sleep?

If your doctor prescribes you with 24/7 oxygen, you might be wondering how this will work when you’re sleeping. Your breathing rate and depth fluctuate a lot when you sleep so the amount of oxygen that you’re receiving could change throughout the night. This is why it might be worth it to invest in a portable oxygen concentrator like the Caire FreeStyle Comfort or the Inogen One G5. Unlike oxygen tanks, these devices closely monitor your breathing as you sleep and adjust your intake accordingly.


Oxygen therapy while sleeping


If you have a sleep disorder like obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), you may need to use your PAP device and your oxygen device at the same time while you sleep. PAP therapy is of critical importance for OSA patients because it keeps their airways open as they sleep allowing them to get restful sleep without interruptions. To use your CPAP device with your oxygen device, you need to be using a continuous flow oxygen unit and have a bleed in adapter that connects the tubing together. The Respironics SImplyGo is the perfect portable oxygen concentrator for CPAP compatibility.


10.) How Can I Eliminate Discomfort While on Supplemental Oxygen?

For the most part, oxygen therapy shouldn’t cause any discomfort. However, some people encounter issues with the nasal cannula such as irritation inside the nose due to dryness or some other reason. Humidifiers can actually be attached to your oxygen device to help ease the discomfort and there are a number of other accessories you can purchase that make the process more comfortable. We actually wrote a guide discussing some of the issues oxygen patients face and how to solve them. Check it out here


Cannula Loop


11.) Can I Exercise on Oxygen?

Consistent moderate exercise is crucial for pulmonary wellness. Not only does exercise improve the strength of your lungs but it also increases the efficiency that your heart pumps oxygen throughout your body. So, just because you’ve started oxygen therapy does not mean that you should stop exercising. Check out this post which has some tips for exercising with an oxygen device and be sure to ask your doctor for advice as well.


Oxygen therapy while biking


12.) What Do I Need to Know to Travel With Oxygen?

Traveling around the world with COPD is much easier than ever before thanks to portable oxygen concentrators. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the organization that oversees all commercial flights in the United States has approved most POCs for in-flight use. However, to make sure you have everything you need, you should contact your airline at least 48 hours before your flight. Most airlines require that you have at least one and a half times as much battery life as the duration of the flight. This will make up for any delays that may occur before and after you land.


Plane landing


13.) How Do I Maintain My Oxygen Device?

With the advent of the novel coronavirus, cleaning has taken on a whole new meaning. No matter what type of oxygen device you decide to use, you should take the time to clean it regularly. What’s more, nasal cannulae and oxygen tubing should be replaced every two weeks to ensure it’s clean and ready for use. If you purchase a portable oxygen concentrator you should remove the particle filters each week and wash them off. This will ensure that the air you’re inhaling through the cannula is clean and free of dust and dirt.


Cleaning supplies


14.) Will I Need to Get Retested For Supplemental Oxygen?

Doctors typically use arterial blood gas analysis, pulse oximetry, and various lung tests to determine your need for supplemental oxygen. However, you may need to take on-going tests to help your doctor determine whether or not you still need oxygen in the future. Ask your doctor what kind of tests you will need to take and how often you should come in for a checkup once you are using your oxygen device. Some patients find it helpful to get a certificate of medical necessity which can help you file insurance claims and apply for benefits.


Doctor with clipboard

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