Talking about Supplemental Oxygen with Your Family
A simple way to help manage life with COPD
Being diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) can be a big health and life transition, but there are little things you can do to help ease changes for you and your family.
COPD, which includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis, makes it difficult to breathe and harder to do things you used to do because of symptoms like chronic cough, shortness of breath and wheezing. Many people don't recognize COPD symptoms because they think it's is just part of getting older. In fact, most people with COPD are age 65 or older. However, speaking with your doctor and getting diagnosed can open the doors to the treatment and support that can greatly improve your quality of life.
Treatment for COPD might include medication, and in some cases, supplemental oxygen (oxygen therapy) that can relieve feelings of fatigue and reduce COPD flare-ups. This therapy uses special equipment like:
- Compressed oxygen using a tank
- Liquid oxygen
- Oxygen concentrators
- Portable oxygen concentrators
The extra oxygen is usually delivered through nasal prongs (an oxygen cannula) or a facemask.
Learning how to use this device is the first step, but how do you introduce this new machine to the family—especially children or grandchildren who are often quick to ask "what is that?" or "why do you have a tube in your nose?"
"Starting on supplemental oxygen is life changing in more ways than one,” says Mark Courtney, a respiratory therapist with the American Lung Association Lung HelpLine. “I think everyone is a little different; some people welcome questions, and others may not. How you choose to talk about it really depends on your comfort level.”
For some patients, a simple strategy might do the trick: Give your oxygen delivery device a name. "We named him Pat!" says one COPD patient who got the idea from a Better Breathers Club meeting. “Now he’s just part of the family.”
Learning tips like this are a benefit of participating in support groups like Better Breathers Clubs, which help patients and their loved ones learn ways to cope with a lung disease while getting the support of others in similar situations.
"Our Better Breathers Clubs come up with simple solutions to problems that can seem overwhelming when you first encounter them," says Barbara Kaplan, director of lung health education at the Lung Association. "And one of the biggest issues is talking to your family about all of these changes. Children often have the most questions, and many patients might worry that new things like supplemental oxygen might seem scary."
Courtney points out that when you're talking with your family about your oxygen you're probably going to get into a little more detail as to what it is and why you need it. He suggests including your family members when setting up home oxygen not only explain the need, but to familiarize everyone with changing tanks and the importance of not smoking near the gas. "You can explain it as 'medicine' for grandma's lungs. Since she needs the medicine every time she breathes, she has to wear the tubing to her nose so it will get medicine in the lungs."
Being open to having conversations, honesty in how oxygen helps your symptoms and even a little silly—like naming your oxygen delivery device—can be a way to share your changing lifestyle and even invite your family's participation.
While there's no cure for COPD, much can be done to treat and help manage the disease, and sometimes little things can make life much more manageable.