COPD General:

What is COPD?
The term Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) refers to two serious lung diseases: emphysema and chronic bronchitis.

COPD is characterized by airflow limitation - partially blocked airways - which makes it hard for air to get in and out of the lungs.

What are the symptoms of COPD?
Symptoms include coughing (sometimes referred to as “smoker’s cough”), shortness of breath, excess sputum (mucus) production and wheezing.

How do you get COPD?
Risk factors for COPD include smoking, environmental exposures and genetic factors. The majority of people who have COPD (roughly 80%) were smokers though an increasing number have developed the disease due to other exposures.

What are the genetic factors?
There is a genetic form of emphysema called Alpha-1 anti-trypsin. While Alpha-1 can be successfully treated with an infusion drug, it is uncommon.***

How is COPD diagnosed?
If you or your health provider suspect COPD, a lung function test, called spirometry, will be required to diagnosis the disease.

How many people have COPD?
It is estimated that nationally 24 million Americans have COPD, it is the third leading cause of death in the United States. The Colorado COPD Coalition estimates that nearly 450,000 Coloradans have COPD.

Is there a cure for COPD?
No. But COPD can be treated and managed. If you have been diagnosed and you smoke, you should quite immediately. You physician can recommend therapies that can help with daily living (such as long-term oxygen therapy) as well as participation in a pulmonary rehabilitation program.

Traveling with oxygen:

If you are a lung disease patient traveling with oxygen, whether traveling around the block or taking an extended vacation, planning is key. The following section gives you some guidelines for traveling with oxygen by way of car, bus, train, and air.

Planning Your Trip
Before you travel any distance, you should consult with your doctor. You should inform your doctor of where you are going, how long you will be gone, and how you will be traveling. Your doctor may make changes to your prescription and should give you a copy of any medications you are taking, including oxygen.

To travel with oxygen you need to be aware of how long your oxygen unit will last and find out ahead of time where you can obtain refills.

Safe Travel
  • Never use or store your oxygen near an open flame.
  • Do not smoke while using oxygen.
  • Always be sure that the area where you use your oxygen is well ventilated.
  • Always make sure the oxygen (either liquid or compressed gas) container is kept upright and secure.
Traveling By Car
Always keep your portable liquid oxygen unit secured in an upright position; if possible do the same with portable compressed gas. When traveling long distances with a liquid oxygen reservoir, keep the reservoir in a secure upright position and you must remove your reservoir from the vehicle before you attempt to fill your portable unit.

Traveling By Bus
Before traveling by bus you should contact the bus company to inform them that you will be traveling with oxygen. You are allowed to carry your portable liquid oxygen and portable compressed gas oxygen unit on the bus but it cannot be checked as baggage. You will not be allowed to carry a liquid oxygen reservoir unit on the bus, so if you are traveling a long distance you should make arrangements for liquid oxygen refills.

Traveling By Train
AMTRAK does allow passengers to travel with portable liquid oxygen or compressed gas oxygen units in both the coach and the sleeping car sections. They do however, request that you contact them several days in advance so they can make special arrangements for you.

Traveling By Airline
While most major airlines accept travelers who use supplemental oxygen, policies and prices are subject to change. You should contact the airline you plan to travel with and talk to them directly (at least one month in advance) regarding your oxygen needs. Find out all of the requirements by calling the toll-free “800” number to the airline. If the ticket agent cannot answer your questions, ask for the medical department or special services department.

Major airlines will not allow you to use your own oxygen system on board, but most will allow you to use their oxygen system. You may ship empty oxygen containers and other respiratory equipment in the baggage compartment. You also may need to bring your own nasal cannula, since some airlines may still use masks to deliver oxygen. Oxygen provided by the airline will be compressed gas in a cylinder (either a large cylinder strapped in the overhead luggage space, or a smaller cylinder, which is stored under the seat in front of you.

You should consider avoiding flights with layovers as you will spend less money for oxygen and you will not have to worry about obtaining oxygen during layovers. You should also be aware that airlines will provide oxygen while you are sitting in your seat only, not while transferring planes or while waiting to board.

For additional information on traveling by air (including airline toll free numbers and suggested questions to ask) go to

When calling airlines, ask for the medical or special services department. Here is a list of some key questions to ask.
  • Do you accept passengers who need supplemental oxygen?
  • What do you charge for supplying oxygen during the flight?
  • Do you provide masks and nasal cannulas, or may I bring my own?
  • What equipment will be available on my flights?
  • What is the oxygen flow capability?
  • How can I transport my own oxygen tanks and oxygen generator? Do I check them as baggage, or are they considered carry-on luggage? Is there an extra charge? Do I need to purchase an extra seat for my equipment?
  • What is your procedure for verifying that tanks are full or empty?
  • What documents do you require? What procedure should I follow at the airport?
Finding an airline that can meet your needs might take some planning because not all commercial carriers offer in-flight oxygen. Also, the oxygen devices and maximum oxygen flow rate available on each airline vary. If you need supplemental oxygen and don't take the time to make arrangements in advance, your health problem could turn into a medical emergency at flight altitudes.

You'll need to provide certain information to the airline. For instance, at a minimum you'll need your doctor's name and address and a prescription that indicates oxygen flow rate in liters a minute at an altitude of 8,000 feet and duration of use. You may be asked to complete specific forms, sign a liability release or provide a letter from your doctor that authorizes you to fly, summarizes your condition, and indicates if there are any specific risks to you or others.

Once you've taken care of your in-flight needs, don't forget arrangements for when you're on the ground at your departure and arrival points as well as any layovers. The airlines don't handle your oxygen needs on the ground nor are you allowed to take their equipment off the plane with you. Other commercial services offer oxygen service on the ground.