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Oxygen Therapy


Ava Bentley

Who is this for?

The purpose of this information sheet is to summarise research and present the best available evidence on the use of oxygen therapy. It is a life saving treatment involving the administration of oxygen by mask or nasal cannulae at concentrations greater than in ambient air. Oxygen therapy is used for hypoxia (lack of oxygen in the body), hypoxaemia (lack of oxygen in the blood), trauma, acute myocardial infarction or after surgery. Hypoxia/hypoxaemia is characterised by impaired judgement and motor skills, nasal flaring, changes in vital signs and skin cyanosis (blue or white discolouration).

What We Know

• when oxygen intake is impaired (hypoxia/hypoxaemia)
• in the event of a heart attack
• following an injury
• after surgery.

• when the results of tests such as blood gas and oxygen saturation tests indicate it
• if signs of neurological problems are present (eg confusion and clumsiness)
• if breathing requires extra effort
• if the skin is white or bluish
• if there are changes in breathing rate, pulse and blood pressure.

• nasal cannulae
• oxygen masks.

There are many modes of delivery for oxygen therapy for children. Each case should be determined individually based on age and required treatment outcomes. However, unrestricted and unmonitored oxygen therapy in preterm of low birth weight babies can be potentially harmful and has no clear benefits.

The Evidence Suggests...

Research indicates that oxygen therapy is as an effective treatment for lack of oxygen (hypoxia/hypoxaemia), acute myocardial infarction, trauma and after surgery. A person’s general presentation must be considered first.

Research indicates that nasal cannulae are safe, easy to use, more comfortable than masks and less likely to induce feelings of claustrophobia. The other benefit of using nasal cannulae is that it does not need to be removed for nursing interventions, communication or eating. On the other hand, a mask may need to be used if a higher concentration of oxygen is required to be administered.

Evidence Reliability

The evidence related to the topic of each consumer publication produced by the Joanna Briggs Institute is assessed for reliability and quality. We do not rate a procedure or treatment, but the evidence (or research) that is available to support it. Evidence can play a critical role in any investigation and it is important for detectives to recognise evidence that will provide ‘reliable’ information to aid in the investigation.

This is also the case when assessing health information, as some types of evidence are more reliable than others. For Joanna Briggs Institute evidence based information for consumers, you can be assured that the best available evidence is utilised. If you would like more information about research and levels of evidence, please contact the Joanna Briggs Institute or visit the research page of our consumer web site.


“The procedures described in this pamphlet must only be used by people who have appropriate expertise in the field to which the procedure relates. The applicability of any information must be established before relying on it. While care has been taken to ensure that this pamphlet summarises available research and expert consensus, any loss, damage, cost, expense or liability suffered or incurred as a result of reliance on these procedures (whether arising in contract, negligence or otherwise) is, to the extent permitted by law, excluded”.

What is Evidence Based Health Information?

Just as a detective searches for evidence to solve a crime, so too do health professionals look for evidence to guide their practice. The detective must have evidence to support their case. In a similar fashion, the health care professional must have evidence to support their proposed course of treatment. They search for information that will help them to provide the most effective or beneficial form of care to their patients. Due to the wealth of information available to them, the process of discovering which information is the best can be difficult and time consuming. It would take an enormous amount of time for your doctor to sift through the large amounts of research and information available to them on a particular topic. This is where the Joanna Briggs Institute comes into play. We conduct the ‘detective’ work, providing them (and you) with the best available evidence.

What does this mean for consumers?

As consumers of health care it is important to know that your treatment is being based on the best available evidence. It is also important that you are provided with all of the information in order to have greater independence in relation to your own health care decisions and to be involved in the decision making process.

Further Information

The Joanna Briggs Institute Consumer Information Program provides up to date literature reviews to ensure your information is based on the best available evidence. The Institute also produces systematic reviews and Best Practice Information sheets aimed at clinicians and health professionals. This means you are provided with the same high standard of publications based on the same information as those working directly in the field.


JBI, Recommended Practice & Summary: Oxygen Therapy, JBI Database of Recommended Practices & Summaries,