The Importance of Oxygen Therapy during the COVID-19 Pandemic

The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has brought up a number of topics around respiratory health. Many of us do not know enough about our respiratory health unless we or a loved one have been compromised by a respiratory infection. In 2020, we heard so much about ventilators, portable oxygen concentrators, the importance of high flow oxygen therapy, and our overall respiratory health. In this article, we will go over why these things have become such a big part of our everyday vocabulary.


Let’s start with a vocabulary breakdown:

Ventilator: A bedside machine with tubes that connects to your airways. This machine mechanically helps pump oxygen into your body until your lungs start to work on their own again. A respiratory therapist and/or doctor will set the ventilator to control how often it pushes air into your lungs.

Oxygen Concentrator: A medical device that concentrates ambient air, which is only 21% oxygen, and removes nitrogen resulting in 95% pure oxygen. This medical grade oxygen is then delivered to the patient via a nasal cannula. Watch exactly how this happens in this illustration we created.

High-flow Oxygen: A form of respiratory support, commonly used on patients with acute respiratory failure, to deliver higher flow rates of oxygen than standard oxygen therapy. This form of oxygen therapy is usually delivered using a blender that is connected to a head wall outlet, a humidifier, and a nasal cannula.

Air-Oxygen BlenderA device used for mixing medical grade air and oxygen to any concentration of oxygen.

High-flow Oxygen Therapy during COVID-19

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve heard of severe cases where patients need a ventilator and high-flow oxygen. This is because COVID-19 is a respiratory disease that makes its way into a person’s respiratory tract and infects the upper or lower part of the tract. It travels down the airways where it can irritate and inflame the lining causing the infection to reach the alveoli (tiny branches of air tubes in the lungs). When this happens, the alveolar wall thickens and edema appears. According to RT Magazine, “as the infection ramps up, the endothelial barrier is disrupted, dysfunctional alveolar-capillary oxygen transmission is reduced, and impaired oxygen diffusion capacity becomes a serious issue.”

This is where high-flow oxygen comes in. High-flow oxygen therapy allows high-flow, heated, and humidified concentrated oxygen delivery in a wide range of patients. A study highlighted by NCBI suggests that high-flow nasal cannula (HFNC) is a suitable choice of treatment for severe or critical COVID-19 patients. Conventional oxygen therapy is only suitable for patients with a mild case of COVID or another lung disease such as COPD. During the initial outbreak, the number of COVID-19 patients increased rapidly resulting in a shortage of intensive care physicians and respiratory therapists. Since there weren’t enough specialists to provide all severe patients with other treatments such as ventilation, HFNC was easily implemented and managed by general physicians.

Respiratory Health

Our overall respiratory health has been the topic of conversation since the start of this pandemic as well. It is something not many of us probably thought about before COVID-19 surprised us. If you want to take better care of your respiratory health, these 7 steps can help:

  1. Stop smoking and stay away from secondhand smoke
  2. Avoid air pollution
  3. Avoid exposure to people with viral infections, such as flu and COVID-19
  4. Exercise regularly
  5. Eat a healthy balanced diet
  6. Maintain a healthy weight
  7. See your doctor for annual physical visits

Taking care of your overall respiratory health is very important. Some patients may need ongoing care due to a chronic disease such as COPD. A common way to provide on-going care for such a disease is oxygen therapy via a portable oxygen concentrator. Wondering if you are at risk for COPD? Check out these COPD warning signs not to ignore.

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