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Using Oxygen at Home


Why might I need oxygen at home? You may need supplemental oxygen if you are not able to breathe enough oxygen on your own. You may need supplemental oxygen if you have certain medical conditions, such as asthma, chronic bronchitis, or lung disease. You may need oxygen all the time, or only when you sleep or exercise. You need a doctor's order to get oxygen therapy. The order will include how much oxygen you need, and how often you need it. Use oxygen as directed by your caregiver.

What are the types of oxygen systems? Your caregiver will pick your oxygen supply based on how much oxygen you need, and how active you are. Oxygen can be supplied the following 3 ways:

  • Compressed oxygen: This system holds oxygen in a metal cylinder (tank) under pressure. The tank can be set to release only the amount of oxygen you need as you breathe. Compressed oxygen tanks are heavy, and are meant to be used when you stay mostly in one place. Ask for help if you need help to move or secure it. Smaller tanks and wheeled carts are available to help you move with ease, or when you travel.

  • Liquid oxygen: Liquid oxygen is kept chilled inside a small, insulated case. The liquid warms and becomes a breathable gas when you need to breathe in. Liquid oxygen cases are smaller and easy to carry around. You can refill your small liquid oxygen case from a big tank kept in your home. Your oxygen delivery service will fill your large tank every 1 to 2 weeks.

  • Oxygen concentrator: An oxygen concentrator is an electric machine that stores oxygen from the air. This machine is heavy and may come with a wheeled cart to help you move it from room to room.

What are the types of oxygen breathing devices? Each device is connected to the oxygen supply with tubing. The tubing should be long enough to let you move around your house. Change your tubing every 6 to 12 months. You may need a humidifier to moisten the oxygen. This may prevent dryness in your nose, mouth, and throat. Ask your caregiver if you need a humidifier, and how to attach it to your oxygen supply.

  • Nasal cannula: A nasal cannula is a 2-pronged plastic tube that fits inside your nostrils. Place one prong in each nostril. Loop the tubing around your ears, or attach it to your eyeglasses to keep it in place. Make sure your cannula fits you well and is comfortable.

  • Oxygen mask: An oxygen mask is attached to a plastic tube and covers your nose and mouth. It is usually held in place by an elastic strap that wraps around the back of your head. You can use an oxygen mask if you need a lot of oxygen. Your caregiver may tell you to use a nasal cannula during the day, and a mask at night. A mask may help if your nose is dry or stuffy.

  • Transtracheal oxygen: Transtracheal oxygen is given through a small, flexible catheter (tube) in your trachea (windpipe). A catheter is put directly into your windpipe through an opening in your neck. A necklace holds the catheter in place. You will need a humidifier with transtracheal oxygen to keep your throat from getting dry.

How do I use oxygen safely?

  • General safety tips:

    • Do not smoke. Compressed oxygen can catch on fire. Do not let anyone smoke in your house. Only sit in nonsmoking sections in restaurants.

    • Do not use anything flammable while you wear your oxygen device. This includes cleaning fluids, gasoline, paint thinner, or aerosol sprays.

    • Do not change the flow of your oxygen unless directed by your caregiver. Turn your oxygen container or concentrator off when you are not using your oxygen.

    • Keep the oxygen container 5 feet away from open flames or heaters, such as candles, fireplaces, gas stoves, or hot water heaters.

    • Do not drink alcohol or take sedatives while you are using oxygen. These may slow your breathing.

    • Put signs on all the doors of your house to let visitors and emergency workers know that oxygen is in use.

    • Keep oxygen containers secured in an upright position. Oxygen containers may become damaged if they fall over. An oxygen container may cause serious injury if it breaks.

    • Keep a fire extinguisher and a phone close by in case of a fire. Tell your fire department that you have oxygen in your home if you need to call them for help.

    • Follow instructions for use and maintenance of your oxygen equipment.

    • Tell your electric company that you have electrical medical equipment. They will put you on a priority list to fix your power quickly if it goes out.

  • Travel tips: You may need extra oxygen when you travel to high altitudes. This includes airline travel. There is less oxygen in these areas, which makes it harder for you to breathe. Contact all airline, bus, train, or ferry companies you will be traveling with about their rules for oxygen use. Most airlines require you to let them know about your oxygen needs at least 3 days before your flight. You may need to bring a note from your doctor, or fill out paperwork.

How do I clean my oxygen supplies?

  • Nasal Cannula: Wash your nasal prongs with soap and water twice a week. Replace your nasal prongs every 2 weeks. Replace your tubing every 2 months, or when it becomes stiff. Change the tubing if moisture appears on the inside of the tube. Moisture can make bacteria grow, and cause infections. Change the cannula and tubing after you have healed from any colds.

  • Oxygen mask: Ask your caregiver how often to clean your mask with soap and warm water. Replace the mask every 2 weeks.

  • Transtracheal catheter: Ask your caregiver how to care for your transtracheal oxygen catheter.

  • Oxygen concentrator: Unplug the unit. Use a damp cloth to wipe the cabinet that holds the unit. Let the cabinet dry. Disinfect the buttons and outside of your concentrator. Clean your air filter at least once a week with soap and water. Let it air dry. Replace the filter at least once a week. Ask your oxygen supply company to service your concentrator at least once a year. Ask your caregiver if you have any questions about how to clean the air filter.

  • Humidifier: Wash your humidifier bottle with soap and warm water between each refill. Rinse and air dry the bottle before you refill it with sterile (germ-free) or distilled water. Do not use tap water. Disinfect the outside of the bottle and cap once the inside of the bottle has been washed.

What are some general tips for oxygen use?

  • Keep a backup oxygen supply in case of an emergency. Always keep a backup oxygen tank that does not run on electricity in case there is a power failure. Oxygen may leak out of your container. Ask your caregiver if your supply has a tool to reduce wasted oxygen.

  • Use gauze or water-based lubricants to help soothe your skin. Oxygen may dry out your skin, mouth, or throat. Place gauze on top of your ears or under the tubing on your cheeks if they become sore. Use water-based lubricants on your lips and nostrils if they become dry or sore. Do not use oil-based lubricants. They may be flammable.

  • Order new oxygen well before your current supply runs out. Remember your oxygen company may not deliver on holidays. Ask your caregiver for help planning your oxygen needs when you travel.

  • Keep the phone number of your oxygen supply company handy. Place it in an area that you see every day, such as on your fridge. Contact them if you have any problems with your supplies.

When should I contact my caregiver? Contact your caregiver if:

  • Your breathing is shallow or slow, or more difficult than usual for you.

  • You feel anxious or cannot sit still.

  • Your oxygen tubes create sores on your skin, or make you bleed.

  • You have a headache, your heart is beating fast, and you are shaking.

  • You have trouble sleeping because you cannot breathe well.

When should I seek immediate care? Seek care or call 911 immediately if:

  • Your breathing becomes fast, or it hurts to inhale.

  • Your fingernails or lips are blue.

  • You are tired, confused, cannot think clearly, or faint. This may mean you need more oxygen.

  • You have a high fever. This may mean you have an infection.

  • You have sudden chest pain.


You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment.

© 2013 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of the Blausen Databases or Truven Health Analytics.

The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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