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Oxygen Therapy: What It Is & 10 Benefits of Supplemental Oxygen

Updated: Jun 7

Exercise with oxygen therapy - The Dearing Clinic

Oxygen therapy is a well-established medical treatment that involves the use of supplemental oxygen to help people who either have difficulty breathing or are looking for specific benefits from supplemental oxygen, such as increasing muscle mass, boosting energy, or improving sleep. 


Think back to a time when you were under stress and feeling overwhelmed. Maybe you were up against a work deadline that you weren’t sure you were going to make. Or maybe your child was sick. Perhaps you were concerned about an upcoming bill. 


Whatever the case, odds are pretty high that at some point during the situation at hand, you took a long deep breath in and let out a slow exhale, perhaps even without realizing it. Or perhaps you found yourself sighing a lot. 


Do you know why you did that? It was your body’s way of increasing your oxygen intake in an effort to calm your stress, boost your energy, and decrease your heart rate. You see, your body knows how good an extra intake of oxygen can be for your health. And that’s the fundamental idea of oxygen therapy: supplying your body with extra oxygen in times of need.


But you may be surprised to learn that oxygen therapy isn’t only for those who need help to facilitate better respiration. Just as in the example above, oxygen therapy benefits your health in a variety of ways, and that’s exactly why it’s used to help people just like you achieve specific health and wellness goals.


For example, here at The Dearing Clinic in Nashville, we use certain types of oxygen therapy, such as exercise with oxygen therapy and hyperbaric oxygen therapy (we discuss these in more detail here) specifically to improve outcomes for brain and body therapies and rehabilitation.


Curious to learn more about oxygen therapy and discover whether or not it’s something you should pursue? Keep reading to learn all about this therapy, including what it is, how it works, and the top oxygen therapy benefits you can reap for yourself!


What Is Oxygen Therapy?

Oxygen therapy is the use of supplemental oxygen for people who require higher levels of oxygen in their bloodstream. While it’s commonly used in people who have trouble absorbing and transporting oxygen, such as those with respiratory disorders or during certain medical procedures, oxygen therapy is also very useful for those looking to gain the additional health benefits that extra oxygen intake can provide.


There are different methods of delivering oxygen therapy, including through nasal prongs and face masks. Nasal prongs are small tubes that fit into the nostrils and deliver a constant flow of oxygen, and you often see these on patients requiring a consistent supply of supplemental oxygen through a portable tank or those needing oxygen in the hospital or in a nursing home. 


Face masks cover the nose and mouth, providing a higher concentration of oxygen to the patient. These are often used in certain outpatient forms of oxygen therapy, such as in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber or during exercise with oxygen therapy (more on those later). 


As you can see, oxygen therapy can be administered in different settings, including in hospitals, clinics, and even at your home. Regardless of the setting or goal, this therapy helps improve oxygen levels in the blood, reduce the workload on the heart, and enhance overall well-being.


What Is Oxygen Therapy Used For?

Oxygen therapy is used to treat a variety of conditions, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), pneumonia, asthma, cystic fibrosis, and sleep apnea. Additionally, it’s commonly used to support those undergoing respiratory treatments or surgical procedures and to aid performance and well-being during high altitude or high-intensity activities.


As you’re likely aware, oxygen therapy is crucial for people with severe respiratory conditions because it helps increase the amount of oxygen in their bloodstream. This is important because it aids in alleviating symptoms such as shortness of breath, fatigue, and confusion. 


Oxygen therapy can improve the quality of life for people with COPD, specifically, by reducing the strain on their heart and lungs, allowing them to engage in daily activities with more ease and comfort.


But there are more uses for oxygen therapy beyond these conditions. In addition to its medical uses, oxygen therapy is also commonly used in the field of sports medicine to enhance athletic performance. 


Athletes often undergo oxygen therapy to speed up recovery after intense workouts or competitions, as the increased oxygen levels are known to help repair muscle tissues and reduce fatigue. 


Additionally, some fitness enthusiasts use oxygen therapy to boost their endurance during high-intensity training sessions, allowing them to push their limits and achieve better results, such as increased muscle mass.


Finally, boosting energy, improving sleep, reducing pain, and even increasing collagen production are all additional established benefits of oxygen therapy. In fact, using a certain form of oxygen therapy known as hyperbaric oxygen therapy (or HBOT, which you’ll learn more about below), has even been shown to improve and speed up wound healing!


When Is Oxygen Therapy Needed?

There are certain times when oxygen therapy may be urgently needed, such as when someone’s oxygen levels drop below the normal range (typically when the blood’s oxygen saturation falls below 90%). This can cause certain symptoms including shortness of breath, fatigue, confusion, and dizziness. 


Also, there are various health conditions that may require using oxygen therapy, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), pneumonia, asthma, heart failure, and sleep apnea. 


For example, when someone has COPD, damaged air sacs in the lungs can’t effectively exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide, leading to low oxygen levels in the blood. As a result, oxygen therapy can help alleviate symptoms and improve that person’s quality of life.


Additionally, certain forms of oxygen therapy may be required to promote wound healing, pain reduction, aid stroke recovery, support healing in post traumatic brain injury treatment, and more. 


What Are the Types of Oxygen Therapy?

There are different types of oxygen therapy, and each is designed for specific needs and situations. But before we dive into that topic, let’s first discuss a few terms you should know.


Low-Flow Oxygen Therapy: This involves the use of nasal cannula, which delivers a constant flow of oxygen. It is suitable for people with mild to moderate oxygen needs.


High-Flow Oxygen Therapy: This utilizes devices such as a Venturi mask or nasal high-flow system to deliver higher concentrations of oxygen. It’s typically used for patients with significant oxygen requirements.


Oxygen Concentrators: These devices extract oxygen from the surrounding air and deliver it through a nasal cannula or face mask. They are user-friendly and often used for long-term oxygen therapy.


Oxygen Tanks: Compressed oxygen gas is stored in portable tanks, enabling patients to receive oxygen while on the move. It is a practical option for those who require mobility or need to use their oxygen therapy at home.


Liquid Oxygen and Gas Oxygen: Oxygen is available in both liquid and gas forms for medical use. Liquid oxygen is extremely cold and stored in insulated containers, while gaseous oxygen is delivered through various devices such as cylinders or concentrators. Both forms offer benefits such as improved oxygenation, increased energy levels, enhanced cognitive function, and enhanced wound healing.


Another innovative form of oxygen therapy is demand-flow oxygen delivery, which provides oxygen only when the patient inhales. This conserves the oxygen and ensures more efficient delivery, making it a suitable option for those with varying oxygen requirements throughout the day. 


Now let’s review some of the specific types of oxygen therapy and how they work.


Exercise with Oxygen Therapy

Exercise with oxygen therapy has gained popularity among athletes and fitness enthusiasts looking to take their performance to the next level. By increasing oxygen intake during your workout, exercise with oxygen therapy can help improve your endurance and even speed up your recovery time. 


Here’s how it works: Your body's cells need oxygen to produce energy, and by providing them with more oxygen during physical activity, you can push yourself harder and achieve better results. It also improves your brain’s neuron firing capacity, which supports rehabilitation efforts and facilitates faster results for reaching your health goals.


One of the key benefits of exercise with oxygen therapy is its ability to enhance your body's ability to remove waste products, such as lactic acid, which can build up during intense exercise and lead to muscle fatigue. 


By flooding your body with oxygen during a workout, exercise with oxygen therapy helps to increase your autonomic nervous system’s ability to manage stress. As a result, you can potentially delay the onset of fatigue and perform at a higher intensity for longer periods. Additionally, the increased oxygen supply can also support your body's natural healing processes, which helps to cool inflammation and promote faster recovery after strenuous exercise.


Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) is a treatment that involves breathing pure oxygen at increased atmospheric pressure. This process allows your lungs to take in higher amounts of oxygen, which then dissolves into your bloodstream and is transported throughout your body. 


HBOT is primarily used for conditions such as decompression sickness, non-healing wounds, radiation injuries, and carbon monoxide poisoning. That said, it offers a variety of benefits, which you can learn more about in our article about hyperbaric chamber benefits.


10 Benefits of Oxygen Therapy

As we’ve reviewed, oxygen therapy benefits people with respiratory conditions and those in need of supplemental oxygen. The top 10 key oxygen therapy benefits include:

  1. Improved oxygenation of the body's tissues and organs

  2. Enhanced lung function and capacity

  3. Reduced shortness of breath and fatigue

  4. Promotion of healing and tissue repair

  5. Increased exercise tolerance and endurance

  6. Improved sleep quality

  7. Enhanced cognitive function and mental clarity

  8. Improved stroke recovery

  9. Boosted mood

  10. Increased collagen production


Oxygen therapy benefits - The Dearing Clinic

As a result of these benefits, some of the top conditions that can improve with oxygen therapy include:

  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)

  • Asthma

  • Pneumonia

  • Cystic fibrosis

  • Sleep apnea

  • Heart failure

  • Lung cancer

  • Emphysema


Additionally, some of the top benefits for using oxygen therapy as a healing therapeutic tool include:

  • Post-surgical tissue recovery

  • Wound healing

  • Lyme disease

  • Depression

  • Anxiety

  • Post-concussive syndrome

  • And so much more!


By providing the necessary oxygen support, this therapy can alleviate symptoms, improve overall well-being, and enhance the effectiveness of other treatments.


What Are the Side Effects of Oxygen Therapy?

While oxygen therapy is generally considered safe, it may have some side effects. These can include dry or bloody nose, sore throat, skin irritation from the oxygen mask or cannula, and fatigue. It’s best to consult with a healthcare professional if you experience any adverse effects.


With HBOT, specifically, you can expect to experience mild ear pressure as the pressure in the hyperbaric chamber rises and falls. 


Tips for Using Oxygen Therapy Safely and Effectively

To ensure safe and effective use of oxygen therapy, consider the following guidelines:

  • Follow your healthcare provider's instructions regarding oxygen flow rate and duration.

  • Regularly clean and maintain oxygen equipment to prevent contamination and malfunction.

  • Avoid smoking or open flames near oxygen sources, as oxygen supports combustion.

  • Inform healthcare providers about your oxygen therapy when seeking medical treatment.

  • Ensure proper ventilation in the room when using oxygen concentrators or tanks.

  • Speak with your healthcare provider about any lingering questions you may have. (You can find answers to many questions about HBOT here.)


Remember, oxygen therapy should be used as prescribed and under medical supervision for optimal safety and efficacy. You can contact us here to learn more about receiving oxygen therapy at The Dearing Clinic in Nashville.

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