Using Oxygen At Home

Why might I need to use oxygen at home?

You may need extra oxygen if you are not able to breathe enough oxygen on your own. You need a doctor's order to get oxygen therapy. The order will include how much you need, and how often you need it. Use oxygen as directed.

What are the types of oxygen supply 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 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. You may 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 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.

  • 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. 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.

  • 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.

  • 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 is given through a small, flexible catheter inserted into an opening in your trachea (windpipe). A necklace holds the catheter in place.

How do I use oxygen safely?

  • Do not use oxygen around heat or flame. Compressed oxygen can catch on fire. Keep the oxygen container 5 feet away from open flames or heaters, such as candles or hot water heaters. Do not use anything flammable, such as cleaning fluids, gasoline, or aerosol sprays near your oxygen. 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.

  • Do not smoke while you are using oxygen. Do not let anyone smoke around you.

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

  • Do not drink alcohol or take sedatives while you use 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. 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.

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

How do I clean my oxygen supplies?

  • Wash or replace equipment parts as directed. 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 a cold or the flu.

  • Ask your caregiver how to clean your oxygen mask or transtracheal catheter. Replace the oxygen mask every 2 weeks.

  • Disinfect the buttons and outside of your oxygen 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.

  • Wash your humidifier bottle with soap and warm water between each refill. Rinse and air dry the bottle before you refill it with 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. 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:

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

  • You have trouble sleeping because you cannot breathe well.

  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care?

Seek care immediately or call 911 if:

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

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

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

  • You have sudden chest pain.

  • You feel anxious or cannot sit still.

  • Your fingernails or lips turn blue.

  • You are tired, confused, cannot think clearly, or faint.

Care Agreement

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. 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.

© 2014 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 A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

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