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Pulmonary Fibrosis

Damage to Organs

10/08/2009

Question:

When taking a shower or other minor activity on 6 lpm of oxygen my oxygen level drops to 67 and pulse rate goes to 130-140 and takes about 5-8 min. to stabalize after hard breathing. How much damage is this doing each time to my heart and other organs? I feel I need to push myself to continue to do as much as I can but wonder if I am doing more harm than good.

Answer:

It is preferable to keep the oxygen saturation above 88% if possible. In advanced pulmonary fibrosis (and other lung diseases), it is sometimes no longer possible to do this, even with high oxygen flow rates. In this situation, it is preferable to not intentionally push oneself excessively as there can be more risk of inadequate oxygen to the body's organs than there is benefit from exercise.

Options to help keep the oxygen level up include using a shower stool to reduce the effort required to shower (a plastic lawn chair or stool works well), using a higher oxgyen flow face mask when showering, or changing from a shower to a tub bath or sponge bath. When the oxygen saturation falls with minimal activity despite high flows of supplemental oxygen, sometimes hospice can be useful to help prescribe medications such as opioids that can relieve the sensation of breathlessness when the oxygen levels do fall.

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Response by:

James N Allen, Jr, MD James N Allen, Jr, MD
Clinical Professor of Pulmonary, Allergy, Critical Care & Sleep Medicine
College of Medicine
The Ohio State University