This is part three of a three-part article. Click here for part 1: “Altitude & Oxygen Levels.” Click here for part 2: “Using Your Own Oximeter.” To read the entire article on PERF’s main website, click here.
By Mary Burns, RN, BS
PERF Executive Vice President
Those of you with restrictive disease will find that your oxygen saturations may plummet with activity if you don’t carefully pace yourself and practice good breathing techniques. If you have COPD, when you breathe slowly, breathe out longer than you breathe in. Using good pursed-lip breathing (PLB) can make the difference between a normal and an abnormal oximetry reading. If you have a form of restrictive disease, you may need to try different breathing techniques to see what works best for you. Slowing your breathing helps, and using PLB slowly usually helps also.
If you are doing good pursed lip breathing you should be able to increase your oxygen saturation numbers while you are doing the PLB. The lower your saturation, the easier it is to “blow those numbers up.” The closer your saturation is to normal, the better your technique needs to be in order to increase your saturation numbers. There are lots of patients with low oxygen saturations who are quickly able to increase their saturations up to 93% with good PLB technique. We’ve seen some superstars get all the way up to 98%, higher than the saturations they have on 2 liters per minute of oxygen!
WARNING! If you work too hard at your breathing techniques, you will see that you may actually lower your saturations! So, relax and don’t be an overachiever!
Why would you want to use PLB to increase your oxygen levels when you have oxygen prescribed for this very reason? For peace of mind! If you have confidence in your ability to keep your oxygen saturations at a safe level with your own breathing techniques, you never have to panic if you temporarily run out of oxygen! Also, proper breathing techniques, including a slower breathing pattern, enable you to better utilize your prescribed oxygen, and you may find you need a lower liter flow. Investing in an oximeter, if only to practice breathing techniques, may be of great value for those of you who have compromised oxygen levels with activity or at high altitude.
Remember that each person is different! Please be sure to discuss these breathing techniques and the use of an oximeter with your doctor, who will be able to give you advice regarding their use.