The use of supplemental oxygen for some patients with lung disease is a necessary addition to their medication program. When patients begin oxygen therapy their expectations may not be realistic, which causes confusion and poor compliance with the therapy. Getting patients to accept oxygen therapy can be difficult because many assume that this is an indication that they are in the final stages of their disease, while some fear that they will become “dependent” on the oxygen. The use of oxygen therapy also comes with the need to modify life style and there can be challenges and frustrations along the way. Studies have shown that compliance with oxygen therapy occurs only 40 to 70% of the time. One factor that I often see is an unrealistic expectation about how the oxygen therapy may alter a patient’s symptoms.
Patients are often disappointed that oxygen therapy does not relieve their shortness of breath or does not improve their exertional tolerance. The reality is oxygen therapy is not really a treatment for the lungs, but rather a treatment for the rest of the body which is being deprived of the oxygen it requires. Patients, who have been on oxygen therapy, comment that they are less fatigued, may sleep better, and have slightly more exertional tolerance. Oxygen therapy may also relieve anxiety in patients with significant shortness of breath. Oxygen therapy is not an inevitable requirement for patients with certain lung diseases but it is a necessary treatment for some.