Does Everyone With COPD Need Oxygen?

4 answers | Last updated: Nov 10, 2016
A fellow caregiver asked...

Does everyone with COPD need oxygen?

Expert Answers

Dr. Leslie Kernisan is the author of a popular blog and podcast at She is also a clinical instructor in the University of California, San Francisco, Division of Geriatrics.

No. Oxygen therapy has only been proven to be helpful to those people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) who have advanced-stage disease and have low levels of oxygen in the blood.

Medicare and other insurance companies usually require proof of at least one of two conditions:

  • The person's oxygen saturation (the percent of oxygen in the blood) is less than 88 percent. This can be measured by an oximeter, a device that looks like a clip placed on the finger or toe.
  • The oxygen level on an ABG (arterial blood gas) measurement, which is a type of blood test, is less than 55 millimeters of mercury (mmHg).

ABG measurements are considered more accurate than external oxygen saturation measurements.

Some people with COPD only develop low oxygen levels during exercise or sometimes during sleep. In such cases, oxygen can be prescribed for use just during those particular situations. COPD patients with right-sided heart failure, or with particularly high red blood cell counts, may also benefit from oxygen therapy.

A doctor must prescribe oxygen and specify the flow rate needed, and he or she should be able to point you toward medical equipment companies that supply the oxygen.

People using oxygen should never smoke, as oxygen is extremely flammable.

Community Answers

Blessings69 answered...

Once put on oxygen 24/7 can you go a couple of hours without having to use the oxygen. My oxygen level at night dropped to 71 and my level during the day sitting was 84-87. They're afraid if I don't have the oxygen I'm damaging my brain and my heart. Is this true? When I have the oxygen, my level is 95-96.

A fellow caregiver answered...

I go to a pulmonary specialist and have had respiratory physical therapy. They say your oxygen should not go below 90..88 at the least when excercising. So I think you'd better stick with the oxygen. I know it's a hastle...but if you want to live longer and feel better, you'd better do it.

A fellow caregiver answered...

Oxygen DOES NOT BURN, it does make anything else burn faster, as a retired Firefighter this mis-information makes me suspect all information on this site, so will go else where for needed info to control my C.O.P.D.