All pulmonary fibrosis patients require supplemental oxygen as our disease progresses. As scarring in our lungs worsens, we need extra oxygen to stay alive.
Starting using oxygen
I was shocked when my doctor told me that I needed to use supplemental oxygen, which involves rolling a tank around with me. I said that I was 57 years old and not willing to push around an oxygen tank as if I were 80. He was surprised at my response and said I could carry a portable oxygen concentrator around in a backpack. I said, “OK, I am willing to do that.” It took me several months to feel comfortable carrying oxygen with me.
At first, I only used oxygen when I was moving around. Then I needed to use it at night when I was sleeping and eventually I was using it 24/7. Each time my oxygen needs increased, I grieved and argued with my doctor. I didn’t want to accept reality.
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Using oxygen at night
I was particularly upset when I realized that I needed to wear oxygen when I slept. I thought it would make my sleeping difficulties worse.
It took a little time to get used to; at first, I worried about whether sleeping on my side would cut off the oxygen — but it didn’t. The emotional adjustment was more difficult for me than the physical. A wonderful outcome of wearing oxygen at night was that my quality of sleep improved significantly.
Low oxygen can contribute to sleep problems
Many patients with pulmonary fibrosis have problems sleeping, which increases fatigue and affects quality of life. It can be hard for us to fall and stay asleep. Sleep deprivation contributes to increased fatigue and a lower quality of life. Sleep problems originate from a variety of problems, one of which is reduced oxygen saturation.
PF patients are particularly vulnerable during the rapid eye movement, or REM, part of the sleep cycle. REM sleep is the most rejuvenating part of the cycle, but it poses a problem for PF patients. During REM sleep, the diaphragm controls breathing, while the smaller accessory muscles are temporarily not functional.
Those without a lung disease aren’t affected when this happens, but it is problematic for PF patients. Our blood oxygen levels may fall and cause us to wake up, disrupting our REM sleep. During REM sleep we dream, consolidate our memories, allow our bodies to recover and prepare for the next day. Not getting enough REM sleep can also affect how well our immune system functions.
Ask your doctor about whether you could benefit from an overnight oximetry study to check your oxygen levels while you sleep. Using oxygen at night may help you to sleep better and improve how you feel in the morning.
It really helped me
As my oxygen needs increased, I noticed that I was breathing through my mouth, rather than my cannula, which meant I wasn’t getting the oxygen I needed. I talked to my doctor about using an oxygen mask at night. He explained that if you are using 6 liters per minute (lpm) or more of supplemental oxygen you can wear a closed oxygen mask at night or during the day to improve your breathing. The use of an oxygen mask requires a prescription from your doctor. I started using a mask when needed 6 lpm and was becoming congested at night. Patients can also wear a vent or OxyMask when using between 1 to 15 lpm — I recommend checking with your doctor first.
My sleep quality has improved, and I’m feeling better since using supplemental oxygen at night and wearing a mask. However, we are all different, so what works for me may not work for you. Please talk with your doctor about your sleep problems and the solutions you are considering.
I’m glad I feel more rested in the morning, but it did take me time to adjust. I hope this information will help you to sleep a little better.
I’d love to hear from you!
Do you use oxygen at night? If so, how did you get used to it? If you use 6 lpm or more have you tried using a mask during the day or at night?
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Note: Pulmonary Fibrosis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Pulmonary Fibrosis News or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to pulmonary fibrosis.