Short-Burst Oxygen Therapy In Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease – Research Doesn’t Support It

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is not curable. Oxygen therapy is the only treatment which has been proven to prolong the life of a patient diagnosed with this disease. However, there are several different kinds of oxygen therapy.

Long Term Oxygen Therapy (LTOT) is the medical phrase used for those who require 15 hours or more of oxygen therapy a day. Ambulatory (portable) Oxygen Therapy is the medical phrase used for patients who leave the home or treatment facility for Session Planning exercise. Depending upon the patient, they may need to be on oxygen therapy even during this physical activity. Short Burst Oxygen Therapy is a term for short exposures to oxygen therapy meant to relieve symptoms of dyspnoea, which means difficult or labored breathing or shortness of breath.

While Short-burst oxygen therapy continues to be prescribed by some physicians, medical research does not support such prescriptions. Over and over it is observed that short burst therapy does not achieve the results desired from oxygen therapy.

  • O’Neill B et. al in Respiratory Medicine July 2006 ran an analysis of the short burst oxygen therapy articles found in current medical literature. They concluded that wide spread prescription of short-burst therapy is not evidence based.
  • In the European Respiratory Journal April 2006, Eaton T et. al. concluded “the availability of short-burst oxygen therapy for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease patients discharged from hospital following an acute exacerbation did not improve health-related quality of life or reduce acute healthcare utilisation. These results provide no support for the widespread use of short-burst oxygen therapy.”
  • In February 2006, O’Neill B et. al. reported in the International Journal of Clinical Practice that many who are prescribed short-burst oxygen therapy but meet the requirements for ambulatory (portable) oxygen may actually be receiving suboptimal therapy.
  • In the European Respiratory Journal October 2003, Lewis CA et. al. concluded “Overall, short-burst oxygen therapy neither reduced dyspnoea nor improved performance. This study does not support the use of short-burst oxygen therapy either immediately before or after exercise.”
  • Evans TW et. al. reported even in 1986 in Thorax “It is difficult to determine which patients will derive substantial and reproducible benefit from short burst oxygen but their numbers are probably small. The results cast doubt on the justification for the current widespread prescription of oxygen cylinders for occasional use.”

Long term oxygen therapy is life extending for COPD patients, that has been conclusively shown. It is also expensive. When weighing the different oxygen therapy methods, apparatus, and equipment available, cost analysis is indeed important. However, the ultimate deciding factor should be the health of the patient. At this time, medical research does not support the use of short-burst oxygen therapy.

Samantha Rangen writes about home health issues. She has a BA in chemistry and has worked as a research technician for over 20 years in biochemistry, genetics, biochemistry, and cancer research.

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