Oxygen is often provided to reduce the workload of the heart and lungs in emergency situations. Conditions that weaken the circulatory organs might also require continual oxygen support in order to prevent depleted blood levels. The necessary gas is considered a medication that often saves lives. However, like any medication, the treatment can have side effects.
The continual flow of oxygen into the nose commonly dries tissues. The inside of the nostrils in addition to the skin in the outer surrounding areas often become chapped and irritated. Non-petroleum based lubricants help alleviate the discomfort. Attaching humidifiers also prevents drying from occurring. Patients using nasal cannulas often develop skin irritations behind the ears where the tubing or cannula contacts the skin. Wrapping the tubing in gauze or specially designed foam wrappers relieves the pressure and irritation. After a week or more of constant use, the cannula and the oxygen tubing become stiffer, which leads to the likelihood of irritation. The longer a tubing set stays in use, the greater the possibility for microbial colonization. This is especially true in cases when the patient uses humidified oxygen. Routine replacement of tubing and humidifiers eliminates the possibility.
Retinopathy of Prematurity
Premature infants weighing less than three pounds who are exposed to free-flowing oxygen within the confines of an enclosed incubator are at risk for suffering from eye damage. The oxygen stimulates an overgrowth of blood vessels in the eye. The delicate vessels may bleed, cause tissue scarring or detached retinas. More than half of these infants develop symptoms of ROP. In the majority of cases, the problem resolves without requiring medical intervention. Depending on the stage of involvement, the children may suffer from impaired vision or blindness.
The restrictive lung tissue in patients diagnosed with any form of chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder require continual supplementation of low levels of oxygen as the lungs cannot fully expand. However, oxygen naturally constricts blood vessels. When a COPD patient receives excessive levels of oxygen, the gas enters the lungs but is inhibited from adequately circulating through the blood due to the constricted vessels. Without a sufficient number of oxygen molecules to attach to hemoglobin, carbon dioxide molecules accumulate.
Dangers of Hyperbaric Chambers
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy may be used for a number of conditions that include anaerobic bacterial infections, carbon monoxide or cyanide poisoning, decompression sickness or to promote wound healing. If not monitored and administered correctly, patients may suffer anything from generalized fatigue and dizziness to serious lung or vision damage and seizures. In order to minimize the risks, treatments should last no more than two hours. The pressure inside of the chamber must also be maintained at less than three times that of normal room pressure.