Oxygen: Home Therapy

Why do I need to use oxygen?

Oxygen therapy can help you:

  • Breathe better.
  • Sleep better at night.
  • Feel better.
  • Be more alert during the day.
  • Be more active.

Oxygen may be prescribed for conditions such as:

  • Emphysema
  • Chronic bronchitis
  • Lung cancer
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Heart failure

Oxygen at very high levels over a long time can be dangerous. This is why you need a prescription from your healthcare provider. The prescription will tell you how much oxygen you need and how often you need to use the oxygen.

Some people need oxygen therapy only when they exercise or while they sleep. Others need to use oxygen all of the time. Your healthcare provider will measure the level of oxygen in your blood to see how much oxygen you need.

Do not stop using oxygen therapy unless your health care provider tells you to do so.

How can I get oxygen?

If you need oxygen at home, a technician will help you set up your system. The company that supplies your home oxygen will help you with setup and delivery schedule for bringing replacement supplies to your home.

There are 3 kinds of oxygen systems for the home:

  • Tanks of compressed gas. Oxygen gas is stored under pressure in a tank with a device called a regulator on top. The regulator controls the flow rate. Oxygen gas also comes in small tanks that you can carry with you outside the home.
  • Tanks of liquid oxygen. Oxygen can be stored in tanks as a very cold liquid. The liquid changes to a gas when it is released from the tank. Liquid oxygen is more expensive than compressed gas, but it takes up less space and is easy to transfer to portable tanks.
  • Oxygen concentrator. This is an electric device that gets oxygen from the air and concentrates it.

You breathe oxygen from a tank or concentrator in 1 of 3 ways:

  • A nasal cannula is soft, plastic tubing that runs from your nose, over your ears, and down your back to the tank or machine supplying the oxygen. Two thin prongs fit just inside your nostrils.
  • A mask that fits over your nose and mouth may work best if you need a high flow of oxygen.
  • Transtracheal oxygen therapy means that you have a small flexible catheter in your trachea (windpipe). This may be used after an injury or after being on a breathing machine in the hospital. A humidifier is needed when you use oxygen through a tube in the throat.

How do I use oxygen safely?

Oxygen by itself cannot catch fire, but it will make anything around it that catches fire burn much faster. For example, a spark that lands on clothing will normally only smolder and cause a small burn hole, but with oxygen in use the clothing might catch fire.

Keep a fire extinguisher close by, and let your fire department know that you have oxygen in your home. Keep these kinds of items away from the oxygen supply:

  • Alcohol
  • Aerosol sprays
  • Cleaning fluid, paint thinner, or other solvents
  • Perfumes
  • Petroleum products, such as gasoline or oil

Keep oxygen at least 5 feet away from sources of flames, sparks, or high heat. Examples include:

  • Cigarettes
  • Gas stoves and heaters
  • Candles
  • Lighted fireplaces or wood stoves

Never smoke while you are using oxygen. Warn visitors not to smoke near you when you are using oxygen.

Large oxygen tanks are heavy and should be secured so that they do not fall over.

If you have a concentrator, it is best to clean the air filter at least once a week. You should have a tank of oxygen as a backup in case of a power failure. If you use a concentrator, tell the electric company so you will be given priority for repairs if there is a power failure.

Keep your oxygen tubing away from hot things that could melt it. The highest safe temperature for the oxygen tank and accessories is 125°F (52°C).

What else do I need to know if I am using oxygen at home?

  • Wash cannulas or masks once or twice a week. Use liquid soap and rinse thoroughly. Change to a new cannula or mask every 2 to 4 weeks.
  • If you are using a transtracheal catheter, check with your healthcare provider to learn how to clean your catheter and humidifier bottle.
  • Oxygen therapy dries the inside of your nose and mouth. Use water-based lubricants such as K-Y Jelly on your lips or in your nose. Do not use an oil-based product, such as petroleum jelly. To prevent pain and sores caused by dryness, make sure you have good dental and gum care.
  • Ask your oxygen provider for a cushion to put under the tubing. This keeps your cheeks or the skin behind your ears from getting irritated.
  • Don’t drink alcohol. It may slow your breathing rate. It may also cause you to forget to follow the rules for being safe with oxygen.
  • Make sure your healthcare provider knows all of the medicines and supplements you are taking.
  • Don’t change the flow of oxygen without your healthcare provider’s approval. Too much oxygen can cause you to breathe too slowly. You may become more short of breath. Talk with your provider if you think your oxygen level needs to be adjusted.
  • You can travel with oxygen, but you will need a special small tank. Talk with your provider about your options. If you plan to travel by air, call the airline ahead of time to find out what their policies are. Many airlines don’t allow you to get on board with your own oxygen equipment. If your lung disease is severe, your healthcare provider may advise you not to fly.

Ask your healthcare provider:

  • How long you will need to use oxygen
  • What activities you should avoid while using oxygen
  • What symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if you have them
  • When you should come back for a checkup

Call your healthcare provider or your oxygen supplier if you have any questions about oxygen therapy.

Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2012-09-17
Last reviewed: 2014-04-01
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

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