Using Oxygen Safely
How does your body get oxygen? Oxygen is a gas that your body needs to work well. Your lungs take the oxygen out of the air you breathe and put it into your blood. The blood takes the oxygen to all the cells in your body. Then the waste carbon dioxide is taken back to the lungs where you breathe it out.
Why might you need extra oxygen? Sometimes a person needs more oxygen than he can get just by breathing. You may need extra oxygen if you have lung disease, anemia, or heart disease. Your body may also need extra oxygen after some injuries, such as burns.
What is an oxygen system? An oxygen system includes three main parts. The oxygen comes in a container. You will have a breathing device (a mask or cannula) to put on your face to receive the oxygen. A long tube will connect the mask or cannula to the oxygen container.
What kinds of oxygen containers are there?
- Liquid oxygen container: Liquid oxygen is kept very cold in an insulated container. The oxygen is warmed before you breathe it in.
- The liquid oxygen container has different parts.
- Contents indicator: This tells you how much oxygen is left in the container.
- Flow meter: This controls the rate (how fast) the oxygen comes out of the container.
- Humidifier (hew-mih-dih-fi-er) bottle and adapter: Water is mixed with the oxygen before you breathe it. This helps to prevent your nose, mouth, and throat from becoming too dry.
- Filling connector: This connector is used to fill a portable tank with oxygen from the main liquid oxygen container.
- How do you use liquid oxygen?
- Check the water level in the humidifier. If it is near or below the fill line, pour out any left over water. Then refill the bottle with sterile or distilled water. Or, use a pre-filled bottle. Do not use tap water because there are minerals and other things in tap water. Empty and refill the bottle at least once a day.
- Hook the oxygen tube to the humidifier. Hook the other end of the oxygen tube to the tubing on the nasal cannula or mask.
- Turn on the oxygen supply if you are using an oxygen tank. Open the tank by turning the valve at the top counter-clockwise until the needle on the pressure gauge moves.
- Set the flow meter. Turn the dial to the number that your caregiver has suggested. Or, turn the dial until the metal ball rises to the correct level on the scale. Never increase the flow rate on your oxygen without your caregiver's permission.
- Oxygen tank: An oxygen tank is a heavy metal tank that keeps the oxygen under pressure.
- The oxygen tank has different parts.
- Pressure gauge: This shows how much oxygen is left in the tank.
- Flow meter: This controls the rate (how fast) the oxygen comes out of the tank.
- Humidifier (hew-mih-dih-fi-er) bottle: Water is mixed with the oxygen and the oxygen is warmed before you breathe it. This helps to prevent your nose, mouth, and throat from becoming too dry.
- How do you use an oxygen tank?
- Oxygen concentrator: An oxygen concentrator takes nitrogen (ni-truh-jin) gas and other things out of regular air. This leaves only the oxygen from the air. This oxygen is stored in the container and given back to you through a mask or cannula.
- There are different types and sizes of oxygen concentrators but most have the following parts.
- Power switch and light: This switch turns the concentrator on and off. The light shows you that the concentrator is working.
- Flow meter: This controls the rate (how fast) the oxygen comes out of the container.
- Alarm buzzer: The alarm goes off whenever the power stops for any reason.
- How do you use an oxygen concentrator?
- Check the air inlet filter to make sure it is in place and clean before you plug in the unit. Wash it in soap and water if it is dirty. Then rinse it, pat it dry, and put it back on the machine.
- Check the alert buzzer if your oxygen concentrator has one. Push the power switch and the buzzer should sound. If the buzzer does not sound, use a different oxygen source and call the oxygen company. If the buzzer did sound, push the power switch again to turn it off.
- Set the flow meter to the correct number chosen by your caregiver.
- Plug the power cord into a grounded electrical outlet. Push the power switch to turn on the unit. The green power light should come on and the alert buzzer should sound for 60 seconds.
- After the alert buzzer goes off, put on the breathing device and begin breathing the oxygen.
How do you use each type of oxygen breathing device?
- Nasal cannula: A nasal cannula is a tube with two prongs that fit into the openings of your nose. A nasal cannula lets you breathe extra oxygen in through your nose.
- Put the two prongs into your nostrils (nose openings). Make sure the prongs face upward and follow the curve of your nostrils.
- Make sure the flat tab by the prongs rests above your upper lip.
- Put the tubing for the nasal cannula behind each ear and adjust it below your chin.
- Mask: An oxygen mask is a mask hooked to a tube. The oxygen comes through the tube and fills the mask. A mask allows you to breathe through your nose or your mouth.
- Put the mask over your face covering your nose and mouth.
- Put the elastic strap over your head so that it rests above your ears.
- Make sure the mask fits firmly against your face.
How do you prevent skin problems while using oxygen?
- Place 2 inch gauze pads against your cheeks and behind your ears. This helps keep your skin from getting sore where the cannula tube or mask strap rests against your skin.
- Check around your nose and ears for redness every 2 hours. If you see redness, rub the area gently. Then wash your face and dry it well. Call your caregiver if the redness does not go away.
- Oxygen can make your nose and mouth dry. If dryness is a problem, use a water-soluble lubricating jelly, such as K-Y Jelly® on your lips and nose. Do not get the lubricating jelly in the cannula or mask.
- Take off the cannula or mask two or three times a day and wipe it clean with a wet cloth.
How do you use portable oxygen? A portable oxygen system lets you move around your house easier. With a portable oxygen system you can also travel outside your house. Portable liquid oxygen units may be light enough to carry on a strap over your shoulder. Portable oxygen tanks may be rolled around on a small-wheeled cart. Check the contents indicator or pressure gauge often to see how much oxygen is left in the tank.
Oxygen safety tips:
- Keep a written list of what rate (how much) oxygen you use. Never increase the flow rate on your oxygen without your caregiver's permission.
- Keep the phone number near of the company that brings the oxygen to your home. Call them if you have any problems.
- Have a back-up oxygen system to use in an emergency.
- Order your new supply of oxygen 2 to 3 days before you will need it or when the gauge reads 1/4 full.
- Check the tubing if you are not sure the oxygen is coming through the tube. Look for kinks, blockages, or to see if the tubing has become disconnected from the oxygen container. Also check if the oxygen is turned on.
- Oxygen can cause fires. It is very important to protect you, your family, and your house when using oxygen.
- Call your fire department and tell them that oxygen is being used in the house.
- Keep a working fire extinguisher within easy reach. Make sure you and your family knows how to use it.
- If a fire starts, turn off the oxygen right away and leave the house.
- Do not smoke and do not allow others to smoke near the oxygen.
- Keep the oxygen container away from heat and open flames, such as a gas stove.
- Keep the oxygen container upright. Turn off the oxygen system when it is not being used.
- Do not put the oxygen tubing under clothing, bed covers, furniture, or carpets.
- Do not use an extension cord with an oxygen concentrator. Also, do not plug the concentrator into an outlet that has other appliances plugged into it.
- Turn off your oxygen concentrator and use a backup oxygen system if you have any of the following problems. Call the company that brought the oxygen system to your home to tell them of your problems.
- The alert buzzer does not come on when you push the power switch.
- The power light goes out and the alert buzzer sounds while you are using the oxygen concentrator.
- The alert buzzer sounds even though the power supply has not stopped.
- If you hear oxygen hissing or if the tank empties too fast, turn off all flames like candles. Remember to also turn off the pilot light on a stove. Open windows to help clear out any extra oxygen. Call the company that brought the oxygen system to your home right away.
When to call your caregiver:
- You may not be getting enough oxygen if you have these symptoms.
- Becoming short of breath.
- Breathing that is not regular.
- Heartbeat is not regular or is too fast.
- Feeling restless, anxious, or sleepy.
- Blue fingernail beds or lips.
- Trouble thinking or being confused.
- As soon as possible if your oxygen tank is running low.
- Immediately if your oxygen tank has run out completely.
You have the right to help plan your care. To help with this plan, you must learn about your illness, injury, surgery, or procedure. You can then discuss your treatment options with your caregiver. You can work with him/her to decide what care will be used to treat you. You always have the right to refuse treatment.