Breathing Problems

What Does Oxygen Therapy Do?

Only 21% of the air we breathe is composed of oxygen. For healthy lungs, that’s plenty. But pulmonary conditions can interfere with your ability to extract oxygen from the air. Oxygen therapy delivers high concentrations of oxygen to your lungs.

Usually, an individual will be fitted with a nose appliance, which delivers oxygen via the nostrils, or a mask, which delivers oxygen via the mouth and nose. In some cases, extra pressure will be applied to facilitate breathing. The type of oxygen therapy machine you need will likely be dictated by your condition and health, so it’s important to discuss all of your options with a doctor or pulmonary specialist. Oxygen therapy can be used to help manage a wide variety of lung-related health issues, including chronic illness.

Who Needs Oxygen Therapy?

Lung disease and chronic lung conditions can interfere with your body’s ability to extract oxygen from the air. This can cause serious and long term health issues. Oxygen therapy is designed to more effectively deliver air to your lungs, relieving some of the effects of labored breathing. Some of the conditions that require oxygen therapy include the following.


Caused by the buildup of fluid in the lungs, pneumonia often begins as a bacterial or viral infection. While antibiotics or other therapies, such as steroids, might be used to treat the underlying infection, oxygen therapy can help patients breathe easier while coping with the excess fluid in their lungs.

Sleep Apnea

Perhaps one of the most common forms of a breathing disorder, sleep apnea occurs when the airway becomes blocked or an individual stops breathing during the normal course of sleep. Oxygen therapy for sleep apnea typically involves a forced-air oxygen mask that pushes oxygen into the lungs (these specialized oxygen therapy devices are usually referred to as CPAP machines).

Pulmonary Fibrosis

The result of scarring on the lungs, pulmonary fibrosis can occur due to a variety of reasons, from an illness-caused immune response to chemical injury to cigarette smoking. The scarring can diminish the lung’s overall efficiency, permanently damaging the alveoli responsible for oxygen processing. Supplemental oxygen creates a richer oxygen environment in your lungs, allowing you to breathe with less effort.


Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, or COPD, is a broad term for an array of lung conditions, including emphysema and chronic bronchitis. COPD disorders are caused by inflammation of the airways, restricting airflow. As a result, you may experience labored or difficulty breathing. Generally, COPD is a managed condition; therapies may include steroids, rescue inhalers, and oxygen therapy.

Cystic Fibrosis

A genetic condition that causes the creation of excess mucus in the lungs, cystic fibrosis can block airways and make breathing challenging. As a result, cystic fibrosis has historically been considered a life-threatening condition. Modern approaches, including oxygen therapy, can be used to help manage symptoms and ensure that, even when symptoms flare up, individuals can still have access to oxygen.


Asthma is a chronic condition that can usually be managed with inhalers or other medications. However, in cases of severe asthma, oxygen therapy may be required to successfully keep symptoms under control and promote healthy breathing.

This list is not exhaustive. If you have a breathing problem that is making it difficult to breathe, contact our respiratory therapists to find out if oxygen therapy might help.

What Is Oxygen Therapy Used For?

Oxygen therapy is a medical treatment used to deliver supplemental oxygen for a wide variety of purposes. In more serious cases, oxygen therapy is used when patients experience some kind of pulmonary distress or difficulty breathing. Many individuals with chronic lung disease or breathing conditions, for example, will come to rely on supplemental oxygen.