Dear COPD Coach,
My wife has COPD and is on oxygen 24/7. Often times she refuses to use supplemental oxygen unless she decides she needs it at a particular time. How do I tell if her oxygen is getting low?
Having an inadequate oxygen level is dangerous, especially if it is low for a long period of time. Low oxygen levels can affect many things: short term memory and eyesight, as well as causing a lack energy and damage to major organs and heart muscle. People experiencing low levels will generally feel lethargic and have little energy.
Some COPD patients experience especially lower oxygen levels at night (breathing is generally slower and shallower as we sleep), and many as a result just require supplemental oxygen while sleeping. In any case, if someone is prescribed oxygen, especially for full time use, it means they need it! By not following the directions of the doctor, they may well be putting their life at risk.
Here are some signs you can look for is your wife’s oxygen level is indeed too low.
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Very fatigued
- Some mental confusion
- Tightening of chest
- Fingers will tingle
- Starting to retain water (will often show up in their feet or ankles
- More coughing than usual
Another sign to look for is Cyanosis. Cyanosis is a bluish discoloration of the skin and is often a late sign of chronic oxygen deprivation in the blood. Common places for cyanosis to appear are the lips, tongue, fingernails and earlobes.
With that said, the easiest way to determine what your oxygen levels are is to purchase and use a pulse oximeter. This is a small device that you put on your finger that will not only tell you what the oxygen saturations are but also your pulse rate. Ask your doctor or other respiratory health care professional to show you how to use and read the pulse oximeter.
While no one wants to spend their life attached to an oxygen hose, supplemental oxygen goes a long way to helping us prolong our life and remain active and healthy. It may seem to your wife as if wearing oxygen is holding her back, but it can actually give her more freedom – freedom to feel better and be more active. I would advise you to discuss oxygen use –together- with your wife and her doctor and see if there are ways to motivate her to use the oxygen as prescribed.
Thanks for writing,
Ask the Expert is aimed at providing information for individuals with COPD to take to your doctor, and is not in any way intended to be medical advice.
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