COPD Patients at Greater Risk for Burn Injuries

By November 10, 2016Burn Injuries

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, or COPD, is a progressive disease that makes it harder for people to breath. The leading cause of COPD is cigarette smoking, but it can affect those who never smoked. The symptoms of COPD can include coughing up mucus, wheezing, shortness of breath, and chest tightness. Most patients are treated through oxygen therapy, to increase the amount of oxygen that flows into their lungs. However, when patients first get their home oxygen treatment, they may face an increased risk of burn injuries.

According to research published in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings, patients with burn injuries were twice as likely to be prescribed oxygen in the previous 90 days compared to those without burn injuries. Many patients continue to smoke even after being diagnosed with COPD, estimated at 15% to 25% of oxygen prescribed patients. Continued smoking with oxygen therapy can increase the risk of fire hazard.

Researchers from the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston retrospectively examined about 2,600 Medicare beneficiaries 66-years-old and older with COPD from 2001 to 2010. About 685 patients sustained some type of burn injury. Those with a more recent adoption of oxygen therapy were more likely to have burn injuries. Most of the burns occurred on the face, neck or hands. Burn injuries also greatly increased the mortality rate of COPD patients compared to those without a burn injury.

The researchers concluded that the benefits of oxygen therapy in patients suffering from COPD outweighed the risk associated with burn injury from home oxygen use. Senior author, Dr. Alexander Duarte noted, “health care professionals should educate and counsel patients and their families on the potential risk of burn injury and attempt to decrease this risk before prescribing home oxygen therapy.”

Smoking and home oxygen therapy can make for a dangerous combination. Fire officials, health care providers and insurance companies have been aware of the increased risk of burn injuries for years. Now, patients prescribed oxygen therapies need to educated on these increased risks. Many smokers may realized that they need to turn off their oxygen tank before lighting a cigarette, but the danger may continue even after the tank is switched off.

Flammable oxygen gas can build up in the home, on the body, and even in the close of a patient. When a flame gets close enough, a fire can ignite, causing severe burn injuries. In Massachusetts, between 1997 and 2010 there were more than 20 fire-related deaths involving people with home oxygen.

An article in the Annals of Burns and Fire Disasters from 2006 noted the increasing number of home oxygen burns being reported, likely due to the increased use of home oxygen treatment in the aging population. The authors suggest that a more efficient oxygen system and less combustible tubing material may reduce the risks of flash burns. But the most important change would include more aggressive warning and education of patients and families.

If patients must smoke while on home oxygen treatment, officials recommend turning off the tank, waiting at least ten minutes, and then going outside to smoke, which can decrease the amount of oxygen on the patient. However, the best way for patients to protect themselves from burn injuries is to quit smoking altogether.

Will Walker

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