CHS Blog

Side Effects of Oxygen Therapy

Posted on 20th , May 2012

Oxygen therapy is the method of dispensing oxygen to people through oxygen tanks, cylinders or concentrators. These methods require the use of various breathing apparatus such as a mask or two plastic tubes inserted in the nose. 

There are many groups of people that should not have oxygen therapy as it may cause health problems or worsen their condition. This includes pregnant women, asthma sufferers, people with an upper respiratory tract infection, collapsed lung, high fever, viral infection or recovering from middle ear surgery.

It is also not possible to give high levels of oxygen to babies or infants as it can cause blindness. The oxygen causes extra growth of new blood vessels in the eye. This is known as retinopathy of prematurity (ROP).   Apart from in certain situations, oxygen therapy, that is administered correctly, appears relatively safe. There have however been some short term and generally minor side effects reported by patients.   Many patients get given the oxygen through thin plastic tube into the nose (nasal cannula). After a while, the cannula may rub and irritate the lining of the nose, creating soreness or some occasional bleeding. This problem can be lessened by applying petroleum jelly just inside the nose.

Sometimes the equipment used, e.g. the breathing tubes or filter or container, can contaminate the oxygen itself by polluting it with air borne particles which can cause health problems or different types.  

 Prolonged administration of highly concentrated oxygen can potentially cause a condition known as pulmonary oxygen toxicity. In many cases this occurs when oxygen is administered at home and the oxygen level is turned up higher than the original level prescribed by the doctor. Pulmonary oxygen toxicity can cause damage to the lining of the lungs and which may cause fluid leakage into the air sacs. The main symptom of pulmonary oxygen toxicity is coughing accompanied by increasingly severe shortness of breath.

With hyperbaric oxygen therapy, which entails  breathing 100% oxygen while in an atmospheric pressurised chamber,  patients often report mild discomfort associated with feeling claustrophobic and feelings of tiredness and nausea.  They may also experience temporary vision problems, slight breathing difficulties and sometimes severe ear and sinus pain caused by the pressurised chamber.

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