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Using oxygen at home

Because of your sickness, you may need to use oxygen to help you breathe. You will need to know how to use and store your oxygen.

Kinds of Oxygen

Your oxygen will be stored under pressure in tanks or produced by a machine called an oxygen concentrator.

You can get large tanks to keep in your home and small tanks to take with you when you go out.

Liquid oxygen is the best kind to use because:

  • It can be moved easily.
  • It takes up less space than oxygen tanks.
  • It is the easiest form of oxygen to transfer to smaller tanks to take with you when you go out.

Be aware that liquid oxygen will slowly run out, even when you are not using it.

An oxygen concentrator:

  • Makes sure your oxygen supply does not run out.
  • Never has to be refilled.
  • Needs electricity to work. You must have a back-up tank of oxygen gas in case your power goes out.

Portable, battery-operated concentrators are also available.

Ways to Breathe the Oxygen

You will need other equipment to use your oxygen. One item is called a nasal cannula. This plastic tubing wraps over your ears, like eyeglasses, with 2 prongs that fit into your nostrils.

  • Wash the plastic tubing once or twice a week with soap and water, and rinse it well.
  • Replace your cannula every 2 to 4 weeks.
  • If you get a cold or the flu, change the cannula when you're all better.

You may need an oxygen mask. The mask fits over the nose and mouth. It is best for when you need higher amounts of oxygen or when your nose gets too irritated from the nasal cannula.

  • Replace your mask every 2 to 4 weeks.
  • If you get a cold or the flu, change the mask when you're all better.

Some people may need a transtracheal catheter. This is a small catheter or tube placed into your windpipe during a minor surgery. Ask your health care provider about how to clean the catheter and humidifier bottle.

Tell Others you use Oxygen at Home

Tell your local fire department, electric company, and telephone company that you use oxygen in your home.

  • They will restore power sooner to your house or neighborhood if the power goes out.
  • Keep their phone numbers in a place where you can find them easily.

Tell your family, neighbors, and friends that you use oxygen. They can help during an emergency.

Using Oxygen

Using oxygen may make your lips, mouth, or nose dry. Keep them moist with aloe vera or a water-based lubricant, such as K-Y Jelly. DO NOT use oil-based products, such as petroleum jelly (Vaseline).

Ask your oxygen equipment provider about foam cushions to protect your ears from the tubing.

DO NOT stop or change your flow of oxygen. Talk with your provider if you think you are not getting the right amount.

Take good care of your teeth and gums.

Keep your oxygen far away from open fire (like a gas stove) or any other heating source.

Travel and Oxygen

Most sure oxygen will be available for you during your trip. If you plan to fly with oxygen, tell the airline before your trip that you plan to bring oxygen. Many airlines have special rules about traveling with oxygen.

When to Call the Doctor

If you have any of the following symptoms, check your oxygen equipment first.

  • Make sure the connections between the tubes and your oxygen supply are not leaking.
  • Make sure the oxygen is flowing.

If your oxygen equipment is working well, call your provider if:

  • You are getting a lot of headaches
  • You feel more nervous than usual
  • Your lips or fingernails are blue
  • You feel drowsy or confused
  • Your breathing is slow, shallow, difficult, or irregular

Call your child's provider if your child is on oxygen and has any of the following:

  • Breathing faster than usual
  • Flaring nostrils when breathing
  • Making a grunting noise
  • Chest is pulling in with each breath
  • Losing appetite
  • A dusky, gray, or bluish color around the lips, gums, or eyes
  • Is irritable
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Seems short of breath
  • Very limp or weak

Alternative Names

Oxygen - home use; COPD - home oxygen; Chronic obstructive airways disease - home oxygen; Chronic obstructive lung disease - home oxygen; Chronic bronchitis - home oxygen; Emphysema - home oxygen; Chronic respiratory failure - home oxygen; Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis - home oxygen; Interstitial lung disease - home oxygen; Hypoxia - home oxygen; Hospice - home oxygen

References

American Thoracic Society. Oxygen therapy. Updated April 2016. www.thoracic.org/patients/patient-resources/resources/oxygen-therapy.pdf. Accessed September 29, 2016.

COPD Foundation. Oxygen therapy. Updated June 2015. www.copdfoundation.org/What-is-COPD/Living-with-COPD/Oxygen-Therapy.aspx. Accessed February 9, 2016.

Review Date 2/2/2016

Updated by: Denis Hadjiliadis, MD, MHS, Associate Professor of Medicine, Pulmonary, Allergy, and Critical Care, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team. Editorial update 9/29/2016.