How Long do I Need to Use Nocturnal Oxygen?

Nocturnal Oxygen: Is it Still Necessary?

Dr. Mahler: I am writing to ask you if I should continue nocturnal oxygen during sleep. A few months ago I had a flare-up of COPD and was in the hospital for 3 nights. I am feeling better and have resumed all of my previous activities. The hospital doctor said to use oxygen at a setting of 2 with activities and during sleep. However, my breathing is fine when I go shopping and do laundry, and I have not been using the portable oxygen system for the past 2 weeks. However, I am afraid to stop the oxygen during sleep at night even though I don’t think that I really need it. What should I do? Janet from Silver Springs, MD Dear Janet: Your situation is quite common. Someone with COPD can get a respiratory infection, and then need to use oxygen when discharged from the hospital. Oxygen is prescribed when the oxygen saturation level is 88% or below at rest, with walking, and’or when sleeping. Many doctors recommend use of oxygen during sleep if it is also needed with walking activities.
Oximeter which measures the percentage of oxygen being carried by hemoglobin in the blood

Oximeter which measures the percentage of oxygen being carried by hemoglobin in the blood

I assume that the oxygen supply company provided both a portable system (for activities) and a concentrator (for sleep). At your next appointment, I suggest that you ask your health care provider to measure your saturation level at rest and while walking in the hallway for at least 2 minutes. This will determine whether you will need to use oxygen at rest and during activities. To check whether you require oxygen during sleep, your health care provider can order a test called nocturnal oximetry. This system (shown above) measures your oxygen saturation while you sleep breathing room air (not using oxygen that evening) and records the results on a computer chip. You return the device the next day and the results can be viewed on a computer screen and/or printed on paper.  Generally, if your oxygen saturation is consistently above 88% during sleep, then you should be able to stop nocturnal oxygen. I hope this information is helpful. Best wishes, Donald A. Mahler, M.D.

Donald A. Mahler, M.D. is Emeritus Professor of Medicine at Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth in Hanover, New Hampshire. He works as a pulmonary physician at Valley Regional Hospital in Claremont, NH, where he is Director of Respiratory Services.