Tips for Choosing a Portable Oxygen Concentrator

Many of you who are using oxygen are finding it more and more difficult to get out while using it, mostly because the tanks don’t last you long enough to make even short trips to the store, let alone take in a movie. For some of you a portable oxygen concentrator, which takes air from the room around you and converts it into a concentrated source of oxygen may be an answer. Before you actually buy one, here are some things to consider:

  • Check with your insurance to see if it is a covered item.
  • Talk with your physician to determine whether you can use a pulse dose (intermittent flow-IF) or will need continuous flow (CF).
  • Call your durable medical equipment company to see if they have one for you to try before you buy one or if they can rent one to you. All companies are different and have different portable concentrators that they use and supply. They should be able to help you find the most appropriate device for your circumstances.
  • Check the specifications- How much does it weigh? How much does it weigh with the battery? Is there a battery included? How long will the battery last? How much will a spare battery cost? Will it provide continuous flow (CF) or only intermittent flow (IF)?
  • If you are set on purchasing one on your own, do your homework. It is best to call the manufacturer directly to eliminate the possibility of getting one that isn’t appropriate for you or one that may have been used and refurbished. This is not to say that there aren’t companies out there that have a variety to choose from, provide decent service and sell both new and used, but if you want to be sure, buy directly from those making the concentrator or your DME company.
  • Come to our “Breathing In The ‘Burgh” boat ride on the Gateway Clipper on Friday, June 15. Our keynote speaker will be talking about this topic and can answer your questions to prevent you from making a purchase that does not suit your needs. Call 724-772-1750 or register online.

To Itemize or Not to Itemize: Deducting Medical Expenses on Your Tax Returns

With another tax season behind us, it’s not a bad idea to think about how you’re going to handle medical expenses on next year’s returns. The federal tax law has a 7.5% threshold for medical expenses for taxes filed in 2018 and 2019 (for 2017 and 2018 tax years). This means that you can deduct medical expenses that are higher than 7.5% of your adjusted gross income (AGI). For example, if your income is $30,000—7.5% of your income is $2,250. If your medical expenses add up to $4,000, you can then claim $1,750 ($4,000 – $2,250) on your tax return for medical expenses.

Keep in mind that it will only make sense to itemize your deductions if the total of the deductions is more than what you’d get by filing with the “standard” deduction. Taking the standard deduction is much easier so if there is only a slight difference between the two totals, the standard would be the way to go.

Starting with the 2019 tax year, the standard deduction is going to go way up, almost double what it is now. If you’ve spent a large amount on medical bills over the last year, this would be a good time to look at the numbers. This deduction is particularly important to Medicare beneficiaries who spend on average $5,680 each year on health expenses that Medicare does not cover, says the AARP.

For a complete list of medical expenses you can deduct, go to and see IRS Publication 502. Here is a short list of some expenses that are included aside from the typical such as physician, dental and X-rays:

  • Inpatient hospital care or residential nursing home care
  • Acupuncture or inpatient alcohol or drug addiction centers
  • Weight-loss program for a specific disease
  • Insulin and drugs that require a prescription
  • Admission and transportation to a medical conference relating to a chronic disease that you, your spouse or dependents have if necessary for medical care
  • False teeth, reading or prescription glasses, hearing aids, crutches, wheelchairs
  • A guide dog or other service animal to assist a visually impaired or hearing impaired person
  • Electricity costs for using an oxygen concentrator (you will need a formula for this calculation)

There are many more deductions available and you will need to check for specifics, but this should at least get you thinking whether itemizing might be for you. Good luck!

Ref: The Pulmonary Paper, January/February 2018 Vol. 29, No.1
The COPD Store

Exercising With Asthma

Exercise benefits our bodies by controlling weight, it helps us to fight certain health conditions and diseases, and it improves our energy and mood.  But when you have asthma, exercise may seem impossible because while exercise is very beneficial to us, asthma that is out of control will make it more difficult to workout.  It is very important to work with your doctor to control your asthma before you decide to begin an exercise regimen.

With asthma, my choice of exercise is running.  I know when and how fast I can run, and when I need to pre-medicate.  I do more of my road work in the fall and spring, while spending my hot summer days and cold winter days in a controlled inside environment on a treadmill.

Asthma does not have to keep you out of the game, though.  There are exercises that are best if you have controlled asthma that will benefit you.  It is very important to offer your body a 5-10-minute warm-up and cool down, no matter what form of exercise you choose.

Some of the following exercises could work for you:

  1. Walking- studies have shown that 30-60 minutes of walking at a moderate pace is one of the best cardio exercises we can do, with or without asthma. Walking 3 times a week for 12 weeks can help better control asthma and increase your exercise abilities.
  2. Yoga- while offering you core strengthening, yoga is great for asthma because it teaches the individual controlled breathing. One study focused on people, who after doing yoga 2.5 hours a week for 10 weeks, were able to decrease their asthma medication.
  3. Swimming- Allergists have said that swimming is ideal for people with asthma because you’re breathing in air that is highly humidified and often warm, and staying horizontal can sometimes help loosen mucus in the lower parts of the lungs. Don’t think you have to swim laps either—just moving around in the pool can be beneficial. However, note that chlorine used in pools can trigger asthma, so use precaution at pools with a strong chlorine smell.

In addition to these exercises, also suggests baseball, softball, volleyball, and football as good sports for asthma because of the quick bursts of play coupled with rest.

Whether you pick swimming, football or walking, working out with asthma is very important for the health of your body. So, let’s get up and get moving!

Lice Treatments Could Trigger Your Child’s Asthma

Recently I received a dreaded call—the lice call. My first-grader with beautiful, flowing, long hair was possibly exposed to someone with lice! I wasn’t sure what to do, so I headed to the local pharmacy to pick up a lice kit. I wanted to arm myself against any new little friends setting up house in my little girl’s head. After speaking with the pharmacist, I purchased the Nix, Lice treatment Creme Rinse kit.

It is extremely important to read every label of the products we use. On the side of the Nix box there is a warning stating; “Ask a doctor before use if you are allergic to ragweed. May cause breathing difficulty or an asthmatic episode.”

As someone with asthma and a ragweed allergy, I wanted a better understanding of the active ingredients in this product. So what is in Nix Crème Rinse that causes this reaction? I contacted the  Nix consumer group and regulatory department and learned that the active ingredient in the product is Permethrin, a synthetic version of pyrethrin. Pyrethrin is derived from chrysanthemums, which is a direct relative to ragweed. Though it is uncommon for this synthetic version to cause an asthmatic episode, it can happen.

A study on Permethrin Crème Rinse was done by using products containing this synthetic pyrtherin.  The study’s results found that 1.0-3.5 adverse events per 1,000 patients proved that this reaction is uncommon, but it is still important to watch the use of this product in someone with a ragweed allergy.

Nix consumer group actually suggested NOT using this product if an allergy exists and utilize Nix Ultra with active ingredients of Dimethicone (silicone-based polymer) and mineral oil.

After this scare, I have spoken to numerous parents regarding their treatment options, and one mother turned to the Nuvo method, which is a non-toxic option that uses Cetaphil to suffocate the lice and eggs.

Another method recommend for asthmatics is repeated wet combing with the use of a lice comb.

Lice cause a real itchy situation in homes, but it is important that during the anxiety of treatment and cleaning, you don’t forget about other underlying issues such as asthma.  Whatever method you use, always be careful using products on children—especially ones with asthma and allergies. Please read your labels and don’t be afraid to ask questions.

About World TB Day

Tuberculosis is a global epidemic, but it is preventable and curable.  In 2016, 10.4 million people were sickened with tuberculosis and there were 1.7 million TB-related deaths throughout the world.  In the United States, there were 9, 272 cases of TB in 2016. According to the CDC, TB was reported in all 50 states with 174 of those cases in Pennsylvania.

March 24 is annual World TB day.  It marks the date in 1882 that Dr. Robert Koch announced the discovery of “Mycobacterium tuberculosis”, the bacteria that causes tuberculosis (TB).  In Dr. Koch’s time, TB killed 1 out of every 7 people in the United States and Europe. Today, one-fourth of the world’s population is still infected with TB.  100 years later, March 24 was designated as a day to educate the public about the impact that TB is still having around the world.

Even though the number of people with active TB disease is declining in the United States, there are still millions that have latent TB infection (LTBI).  Someone with latent tuberculosis lives with tuberculosis bacteria in their body, but is not sick and cannot transmit the disease.  Sometimes, the bacteria can become active.  When this happens, a person will change from having latent disease to being sick with active disease.  People with active TB are contagious and can spread the infection. There are certain people who are at increased risk of converting from LTBI to active TB, and for this reason, should be treated preventatively. Treatment for LTBI has been challenging, and many people do not comply with the often lengthy regimens.

For over 100 years, Breathe Pennsylvania has been involved in the fight against tuberculosis in western Pennsylvania.  In honor of World TB day, we will be offering our 5th Annual Tuberculosis Education Conference on March 22.  This event is an opportunity for health care professionals involved with tuberculosis to learn from experts in the field.

For more information about this year’s conference, visit our event page:

How the Flu Impacts a Child With Asthma

Asthma is a chronic, obstructive disease of the lungs and having it can increase the chances of higher severity and complications from the flu. Asthma does not make a child or adult more likely to get the flu but the infection can be more serious, even with well-controlled asthma. The reason is that asthma causes swollen and sensitive airways, and the flu will cause further inflammation that cab trigger an attack. It can also increase the chances of developing pneumonia after being sick. Per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), asthma is the most common condition in children hospitalized with the flu.

If you have asthma, it is very important to use precaution to prevent the flu:

  • Everyone ages 6 months or older should get a flu vaccine.
  • Since Pneumonia can be a serious complication in people with asthma, consider getting the Pneumococcal vaccine as well.
  • Stay away from people who are sick and keep your child home from school when they are sick.
  • Teach your child to catch coughs and sneezes into their elbow or a tissue.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after coughing or sneezing.
  • Use hand sanitizer when proper hand washing is NOT available. Washing is best.
  • Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces at home, work or school, especially when someone is ill.
  • Continue to follow the asthma action plan developed by your doctor or your child’s doctor.

If sickness does develop, get treated as soon as possible (within the first 48 hours). Antiviral drugs can make the flu illness milder and relive symptoms quicker. Make sure to stay hydrated and get as much rest as possible.

Take steps to prevent the flu and remain healthy!

Eating Well to Breathe Better

When you have COPD it can be a struggle just getting air in and out of your lungs. Not taking in enough calories can cause you to lose muscle mass and strength, so you need to get the most nutrition and calories in every bite. Here are a few tips to try:

  • Eat more often. Small meals help because you may become too full too fast when you eat a larger meal. Being too full can also make breathing harder. To save energy, make smaller meals that are quick and easy to prepare. Try: Turkey pita with cheese and fresh avocado.
  • Fatten it up. Fats help you breathe easier because they make less carbon dioxide, which may already be trapped in your lungs. Try: Peanut butter, almond butter or hummus on whole wheat bread. Use full-fat mayo or dressings for your salad or sandwich.
  • Pour on the protein. Proteins help build up lost muscle mass. Try: Make a batch of hard-boiled eggs to add to meals or to eat as a quick snack.
  • Get fruity. Rich in fiber, vitamins and calories, fruit is easy to find all year round. Don’t eat too much, though, because fruit can pack a lot of sugar. Try: Dried fruit has less water so mix your favorites with some nuts for a great and filling snack.
  • PB&J has it all. Easy to make, cheap and healthy. Have a glass of whole milk with it!

So there you have it. Eat better, breathe easier and enjoy life!

My Doctor Ordered a Nebulizer for My Child—Now What?

Many parents have received a prescription for a nebulizer for their child—whether it’s a one-time occurrence for bronchiolitis or reoccurring for a chronic lung disease such as asthma. Nebulizers are used to administer aerosol breathing treatments to help open the airways. Unfortunately, concise usage and care instructions are not always given, so let’s try to clear up some of the typical questions we hear from parents:

What does albuterol do? It is a medication called a bronchodilator that helps open up tightened or constricted airways. It is fast-acting, but doesn’t usually last more than 3-6 hours. While it works to make breathing easier, one of the effects you may notice is your child being “jumpy” following a treatment. Because of this, it’s important to never use it more than every 4 hours unless directed by your physician.

What is the difference between a mask, a mouthpiece and a blowby? If your child is over 4 or 5 years old and is able to follow directions, they should be encouraged to use the mouthpiece while you watch them take every breath. He/she should breathe normally through the mouth and take a deep breath and hold it for 5-10 seconds every 10-15 breaths.An infant or child-sized mask should be used for younger children, but it comes with challenges. If your child is crying they will get little to no benefit from the therapy so it’s best to help them adjust by letting them hold the mask up to their face with no medication being used or show them a sibling or parent that is using the mask. The child also has to be sitting as upright as possible to keep the medication flowing properly in the med cup (Kit/Jet nebulizer).

Although blow-by (putting the mask or flexible tubing close to the child’s nose and mouth) has been used in the past, it is now known to be discouraged.

What is a normal respiratory rate for an infant/child?
Newborn- 6 months    30-60 breaths per minute
6-12 months                24-30 BPM
1-5 years                     20-30 BPM
6 years and older        12-20 BPM

How long should a treatment last? A typical unit dose vial of medication should last about 7-10 minutes depending on the machine being used. Tap the sides of the medicine cup when it starts to sputter to bring the droplets back down from the sides. You can do this a few times to get the most medication possible.

How do I know when to give my child a treatment? If your doctor has ordered a specific time frame such as every 4-6 hours, you should follow these instructions. If ordered “as needed,” you’ll want to look for these signs:

  • is your child’s breathing becoming faster and more labored?
  • is her cough becoming tighter-sounding with wheezing?
  • is his respiratory rate becoming faster?
  • are symptoms generally increasing?

These are all signs that a treatment is necessary. There are also more severe signs such as lips and nails turning darker/bluish, and much more rapid and labored breathing such as the chest pulling inwards and use of shoulders and neck muscles when breathing. In these cases, give a treatment and call your doctor. One important thing to know is that kids compensate for a long time but then can run out of steam,  so it’s important for you to be vigilant at all times. No one knows your child as well as you do.

When should I call my doctor? If symptoms are worsening even after administering breathing treatments every 4 hours, if your child isn’t eating or sleeping for over 24 hours, or if your child has a fever on and off for 2 days along with respiratory symptoms. Trust your judgement.

How often should I clean the nebulizer kit? Every day. Click here for more information on how to clean your nebulizer. You can also learn more by watching an educational videoon our YouTube channel.

How often should I clean the nebulizer kit? Every day. Click here for more information on how to clean your nebulizer. You can also learn more by watching an educational videoon our YouTube channel.

How do I get new nebulizer kits? The company that supplied your machine will be able to send new kits to you. Their sticker should be on the machine or check for paperwork received. If you don’t know, call your insurance provider and ask them what companies can supply these for you. Check the filter on the machine and replace as necessary. Check an instruction manual if you received one, call your equipment provider or check the manufacturer’s website for more info. Generally, if it looks discolored it will need to be replaced.

Breathe PA has an assistance program that can help you obtain a nebulizer machine if you don’t have insurance coverage.

Please visit our website for more information. In addition, you are always welcome to call us and speak with one of our clinicians.

References: Cleveland Clinic, WebMD, AARC Clinical Practices, Phillips Respironics

Sleep Apnea Can Affect Your Heart Health

The month of February is often associated with love, Valentines and hearts, but there’s a reason beyond Valentine’s Day that February is the month of hearts. For 50 years, American Heart Month has been observed during the month of February. The campaign is aimed at increasing awareness of heart disease, the number 1 cause of death in our country.

According to, approximately 1.5 million heart attacks and strokes happen in the United States each year. While anyone can develop heart disease, people with high blood pressure, high cholesterol and those who smoke are at higher risk. Knowing and modifying your risk factors can lower your risk of becoming a statistic. Regular exercise, healthy eating and not smoking are all great ways to improve your heart health, but did you know that there is also a strong link between heart health and sleep?

Undiagnosed or untreated obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) has been shown to be a major cause of high blood pressure, which is risk factor for both heart attacks and strokes. Research shows that up to 50% of people with OSA also have high blood pressure. Obstructive sleep apnea is also often associated with obesity, which is another risk factor for heart disease.

How does obstructive sleep apnea cause heart problems?  When you suffer from OSA, you stop breathing many times during the night, which causes your oxygen levels fall. When this happens repeatedly, your brain sends messages to your body to “tighten up” the blood vessels so that an increased flow of oxygen can be delivered to your heart and brain. This reaction causes your blood pressure to unnaturally increase during sleep. Unfortunately, this increase in blood pressure can sometimes continue during the day. People with untreated obstructive sleep apnea can also develop atrial fibrillation (an irregular heart beat) and heart failure.

Fortunately, obstructive sleep apnea is a risk factor for heart disease that you CAN control. If you want to learn more about symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea, diagnosis or treatment options, you should make an appointment with your doctor. You can also visit for more information.

Happy Heart Month!

Medicare Coverage for Oxygen

Many people whose physicians have ordered oxygen for home use are confused as to what Medicare will and will not pay for and for how long. The following may clear this up a bit:

Durable Medical Equipment (DME) is covered by Medicare Part B. This coverage will pay 80% of the allowable rental amount— which varies by region— and the Medicare recipient pays 20% plus any Part B deductibles. The amount paid by Medicare covers not only the equipment, but any supplies needed such as nasal cannulas, bubble humidifiers or filters.

As to the equipment itself (concentrator, gas or liquid tanks), Medicare will pay your provider monthly for 36 months. After that time your supplier must continue to provide maintenance and service for the next 24 months at no extra charge to you. After that time (5 years total) you may choose a new provider or keep your current company and the 36-month rental period begins again.

Because Pennsylvania is subject to the Competitive Bidding Program you must rent your equipment from a DME supplier that is contracted with Medicare. Unfortunately, this limits your choices if you are not happy with the company you have. To find out which providers in your area are contracted with Medicare go to: You will have to choose from a list the equipment you are inquiring about, enter your zip code and a list will be provided for you.