Embarrassed By My Oxygen

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Dear COPD Coach,
I was diagnosed with emphysema approximately 10 years ago. About 5 years ago my pulmonologist prescribed oxygen therapy for me. It was only 2 liters per minute to start, used almost exclusively at home while I slept or if I became short of breath. As time has gone by my disease has progressed and my use of oxygen has increased. My question is, what can I say when I am out in public or at work when people ask what I am wearing and why? I have to admit I am somewhat embarrassed to be seen in public wearing oxygen since I am relatively young and look pretty healthy.

–Embarrassed by my oxygen in public

Dear Embarrassed,
First of all, I strongly believe there is absolutely no reason to ever be embarrassed while using your oxygen in public. Having said that, I think we all go through the same issues as our disease progresses, and many people have developed different strategies for dealing with wearing oxygen in public. When I reached the stage of using oxygen 24/7 I too was leery of being seen at work with oxygen on. When I told my manager, I made sure he knew what was going on and he said, “Thank God you’re alright, I was so worried about you. Now the From sleeprestfully.com company gets to report we have an employee with a disability.” My work took me in and out of doctor’s offices every day,  and when first asked I stated that it was because I have Alpha-1. This more often than not led to a great conversation about Alpha-1/COPD and what they can do to better diagnose patients.

In public in my own town, I use the same tactic that I used at work with adults. When children ask, I explain that because I smoked when I was younger this was the consequence. I tell them that when we make bad choices we may have to face negative results to our actions. I can’t tell you how many kids have run off to their parents and begged them to quit.

It's not easy to go out in public when wearing oxygen the first time. However, look at the benefits: you get out of the house and remain engaged in life outside your home. While out, using oxygen makes it easier to do more, your brain thinks more clearly — and think how much happier you are when in the company of others. All in all the benefits of oxygen therapy are innumerable. Basically, it comes down to this: what is more important, not being able to breathe or being seen with a cannula? My choice was I preferred being able to breathe! Please stay active, get out as often as you can and live life. Don’t just watch it go by.

Stay active and be healthy,
COPD Coach

Ask the Expert is aimed at providing information for individuals with COPD to take to your doctor, and is not in any way intended to be medical advice. If you would like to submit a question to the Coaches Corner email us at coachescorner@copdfoundation.org. We would love to hear your questions and comments. You can address your emails to any of the following: COPD Coach, Caregiver Coach, COPD Doctor or COPD RT.

18 Comments



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  • Amen. Better to be alive. We have a retired clergyman in our church who has oxygen all the time poor chap. Don't worry about looks or being embarrassed. Those folk aren't in your skin and they won't mean any harm by staring anyway. I hope that you will ignore it and just concentrate on enjoying your life as much as you can.
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    • Hi I use oxygen 24/7 and I sent for the OYYVIEW glasses and I love them they come with just the plain lenes but you can have your prescription put in by your eye doctor.the oxygen go's thru the ear pieces and down to two little tues all side your nose and you really have to look close to see the little tubes.Look them up on the computer Oxyview glasses. Dee
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    • The "poor chap" comment in your message is part of the problem! What a thing to say!

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  • I also use oxygen 24/7. I got the OXYVIEW glasses several years ago and love them. Most people don"t even notice them. When someone asks me about the glasses I tell them I'm hard of hearing and it's a new type of hearing aid. They don"t know whether I'm kidding or not
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  • I am so embarrassed too. It also makes me mad when people stare. I have only had 2 people ask me why I wear it. I would rather have them ask instead of stare.
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  • What an awesome story . This is what I need to hear . Being positive is the best therapy . Thank you for sharing this with me :-)
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  • I just spent my morning in church ushering with my O2 on. Several people asked about it because they don't often see me with it, but they were concerned that maybe things had gotten worse for me. It was more to help with below 0 temps outside, though it does make walking up and down the aisles in church easier. I'm leaving on Tuesday two consulting jobs; one in Indianapolis and one in Evansville, IN and I'll have O2 delivered to the hotels I'm staying in and I'll use my POC while I'm flying and for getting through airports hauling luggage.

    The O2 makes it possible for me to continue to do all this and I'm eternally grateful, because without it, I'd be sitting at home instead of living my life. I'd be way more embarrassed sitting at home not doing things than being out and about!
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  • I've been recently put on oxygen, and am also struggling with going out in public--especially if children ask what I'm wearing and their parents get embarrassed and start apologizing. How humiliating! If I can work up the nerve, maybe I'll tell children that I'm trying out part of my Darth Vader costume for next Halloween. First, the breathing apparatus, then the mask and cape.
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    • I cant imagine why anyone would be embarrassed but I can tell you that your friends and loved ones will be happy you are taking care of yourself at all times and people other than friends and loved ones simply don't matter. It's medicine! It helps you live longer and better! Get over it and get on with it, it is critical to your health and well being.


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    • One thing I usually tell kids who ask about the O2 is that the air here isn't good enough for me so I have to bring my own, smile and laugh. Usually that gets a laugh back and sometimes ends the conversation; occasionally a kid will ask another question and that often leads to a good opportunity to educate both child and parent. Take advantage of those opportunities!
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  • This is where new technology can be a real help. The smaller and less invasive and visible, the better. Hopefully, there is a movement in the O2 technology to do that. If not, there certainly should be!
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  • I have the Oxyview glasses and they are wonderful...even fooled my pulmonologist. The website is oxyview.com. Great people to work with!


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  • I am much more concerned with the health of my organs than with public opinion. It never occurred to me to be embarrassed about my oxygen use.
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  • I'm new to living om oxygen and being a young woman I was a little uncomfortable in public also. I thank GOD for blessing those with the ability to invent the equipment we nred to help us.
    So I stay super cute and enjoy the advantage of my tank boo, . Some people are nicer to you When you seem happy and blessed to be alive it make the ones that stare embarrass.
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  • I have pulmonary hypertension, COPD and RA. I am (so far) only using oxygen at night or when I am excercising or exerting myself. I do, however, have a handicap placard and you wouldn’t believe the glares I get when I park in a handicap spot. I keep a stash of info cards on what pulmonary hypertension is and give them to people who think that just because I LOOK ok I must be faking. I tell them that living with PH (along with CPOD) is like holding your nose and breathing through a drinking straw. They usually become quiet and go away... We all have enough to worry about, don’t we?
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    • That's a great idea, and people who have disabling conditions that don't show should take lessons from you! I almost always have cocktail straws with me and if you get a chance give them one, tell them to hold their nose and march in place. They get the idea really quickly and kids particularly are willing to do it. It makes the point really well! I never thought about having printed cards with an explanation: that's brilliant!
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  • I'm not new to COPD but I am new to O2 24/7. Re the discussions about comments when wearing O2 in public, I have been pleasantly surprised at how few I've encountered, and most have been along the lines of "my mother uses oxygen too". And I'm less self-conscious than I expected, probably because I can't see the cannula myself! I plan to get the OxyView glasses so I was pleased to hear the positive comments about them. The POC is certainly inconvenient and sometimes annoying, but that's a small price to pay to retain the ability to get out and about. Separate from this topic of embarrassment, I've just had my first encounter with someone forwarding me information about "reversing" and "recovering" from COPD if only I take a particular herbal supplement. I imagine people have found something that eases the SOB, or perhaps it's just trolls, but I need a better comeback than referring them to my pulmonologist to discuss their Nobel-level miracle medical discovery.
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