By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD
Oxygen therapy refers to the administration of oxygen as part of managing illness.
It may be administered as a medical intervention to manage acute or emergency situations or as a part of chronic or long-term patient care. Oxygen therapy may therefore be a key tool in the hospital setting to manage a medical emergency or in the home setting, as a way of managing long-standing illness.
Oxygen is vital for metabolic processes in cells and therefore the function of tissues within the body. The atmospheric content of oxygen within room air is only 21%. Although this amount is adequate for healthy individuals, those with certain diseases can benefit from an increased oxygen fraction in the gas they breathe, which will increase the oxygen content of their blood.
For most of these diseases, increasing the oxygen fraction to around 30 % to 35% is enough to make a significant difference to the blood oxygen level. This can be done using a nasal cannula. When 100% oxygen is needed, a tight fitting face mask can be used, or for infants, a 100% oxygen can be delivered to an incubator.
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is another way of administering oxygen and involves oxygen being delivered at high pressure to increase uptake by the lungs.
Depending on the specific patient circumstances, high blood and tissue oxygen levels can be beneficial or damaging. In cases of hypoxia or hypoxemia, increasing amounts of oxygen should be supplied to the lungs to improve the availability of oxygen to bodily tissues.
Reviewed by Sally Robertson, BSc
Last Updated: Oct 8, 2014