Oxygen Therapy: Using Oxygen at Home

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Oxygen Therapy: Using Oxygen at Home


If you need oxygen at home, it is important to learn how to use and take care of your equipment. This information will help you get the most from your oxygen treatment.

Key points

  • If you have low blood oxygen levels, breathing extra oxygen can help you feel better and lead to a longer, more active life.
  • You can travel even though you use oxygen, but you'll need to plan ahead.
  • Oxygen is a fire hazard. Follow safety measures to keep you and your family safe.

Oxygen therapy is a way to get more oxygen into your lungs and bloodstream. It is sometimes used for people with diseases that make it hard to breathe, such as COPD, cystic fibrosis, or heart failure. Oxygen therapy can make it easier to breathe. And it can reduce the heart’s workload.

Some people need extra oxygen all the time. Others need it from time to time throughout the day or overnight. A doctor will prescribe how much oxygen you need, based on blood tests. He or she will tell you how much oxygen to use per minute (the flow rate) and how often to use it.

To breathe the oxygen, most people use a nasal cannula (say “KAN-yuh-luh”). This is a thin tube with two prongs that fit just inside your nose. Children and people who need a lot of oxygen may need to use a mask that fits over the nose and mouth.

Your oxygen supply

Oxygen can be delivered to your home in tanks, or cylinders, or it can be produced in your home by a machine called an oxygen concentrator.

  • Oxygen in tanks comes in two forms:
    • Compressed oxygen gas. Tanks of oxygen gas come in several sizes. Small tanks can be carried when you leave home. Large tanks are heavy and are usually not moved after they are placed in the home.
    • Liquid oxygen. Oxygen takes up less space in liquid form than as a gas. Compared to tanks of oxygen gas, tanks of liquid oxygen weigh less and hold more oxygen, so they may be a good choice for people who are active.
  • Oxygen concentrators take in regular air (which is about 21% oxygen), remove the other gases, and produce oxygen that is up to 95% pure.
    • Most concentrators are about the size of a kitchen garbage can and weigh from 15 kg (33 lb) to 25 kg (55 lb).
    • Also, portable concentrators that can be taken on an airplane, bus, train, or cruise ship are available. These weigh less than 9 kg (20 lb), and some even weigh less than 5 kg (11 lb). Portable concentrators can either be plugged into an electrical outlet or run on battery power.
    • Concentrators don't need to be refilled like oxygen tanks do, so they may cost less and be more convenient. But unlike an oxygen tank, a concentrator runs on electricity, so you will need an oxygen tank as a backup in case the power goes out.

Your doctor will help you choose the source that fits your needs. A combination may be best. Some people use a concentrator at home, keep a large oxygen tank on hand as a backup, and have small tanks or a portable concentrator for use outside the home.

Test Your Knowledge

Why do you need a backup oxygen supply when you use a full-size oxygen concentrator?

Continue to Why?


Some people with lung or heart disease have low levels of oxygen in their blood. This can make them feel tired and short of breath. Oxygen therapy will give you extra oxygen and may help you feel better, do more, and even sleep better. It may also help you live longer if you have low blood oxygen levels.

Test Your Knowledge

Oxygen therapy can increase oxygen levels in the blood.

  • True
    This answer is correct.

    Some people with lung or heart disease have low levels of oxygen in their blood. Getting extra oxygen can increase oxygen levels and make you feel better.

  • False
    This answer is incorrect.

    Oxygen therapy can increase oxygen levels in people who have low levels of oxygen in their blood.


Continue to How?


After your doctor prescribes oxygen and you decide on which source you will use, there are a few things to know about using oxygen at home.

Basic instructions

  • Do not change the setting on your oxygen without talking to your doctor first. Turning the flow rate up or down could put you in danger.
  • Keep track of how much oxygen is in the tank, and order more in advance so you don't run out.
  • Do not drink alcohol or take drugs that relax you, such as sleeping pills or sedatives, while using oxygen. They can cause you to breathe too slowly.
  • Call your doctor if you feel:
    • Short of breath.
    • Restless or confused.
    • Very tired.
    • Like you are not getting enough oxygen.

If you use a nasal cannula:

  • Wash the nasal prongs with soap and water 1 or 2 times a week. Follow the maker's instructions on caring for your equipment.
  • Replace the prongs every 2 to 4 weeks. If you have a cold or the flu, change them when your symptoms pass.
  • Use a water-based moisturizer (such as Neutrogena) on your lips and in your nose to prevent drying and cracking. Read labels, and look for a product that lists water as the first ingredient. Petroleum-based products (such as Vaseline Petroleum Jelly) can plug the air holes.
  • Put a piece of gauze under the tubing to keep the skin behind your ears from getting sore.

Safety tips

Oxygen is a fire hazard. It will make a flame burn hotter and faster. It is very important to follow the steps below to keep you and your family safe.

  • Never smoke or let anyone else smoke while you are using oxygen. Put up “no smoking” signs, and be aware of people smoking near you when you are outside your home.
  • Keep oxygen at least 2 m (6 ft) away from flames or heat sources such as gas stoves, barbecue grills, space heaters, candles, and fireplaces.
  • Do not use flammable products, such as cleaning fluid, paint thinner, or aerosol sprays, while you are using oxygen.
  • Keep a fire extinguisher at home within easy reach. Tell your fire department that you have oxygen in the house.
  • Keep oxygen tanks upright. Make sure they do not fall over and get damaged.

Travel tips

Plan in advance to make sure your trip goes well.

  • Talk to your doctor about whether it is safe for you to travel. Ask your doctor what you need to do to stay safe while travelling. Get at least one copy of your oxygen prescription, and take it with you on the trip.
  • Before the trip, tell the travel company (airline, cruise ship, train, or bus) that you use oxygen. It’s important to talk to your travel company well in advance, because they may have requirements that can take some time to take care of. Travelling with oxygen can be done if you plan ahead.
  • Learn how to use a portable oxygen tank. Know how long it will last. Bring refills if needed.
  • Get a portable oxygen concentrator and learn how to use it. Some types of oxygen concentrators can be taken on airplanes, cruise ships, buses, and trains.

Test Your Knowledge

Airline companies have special rules for people who use oxygen.

  • True
    This answer is correct.

    Airline companies usually require a doctor’s okay for travel and a copy of the oxygen prescription. Some airlines may supply oxygen for a price or may allow you to bring a portable oxygen concentrator on board.

  • False
    This answer is incorrect.

    Airline companies usually require a doctor’s okay for travel and a copy of the oxygen prescription. Some airlines may supply oxygen for a price or may allow you to bring a portable oxygen concentrator on board.


Continue to Where?


Now that you have read this information, you are ready to start using oxygen at home.

Talk with your doctor

If you have questions about this information, take it with you when you visit your doctor. You may want to mark areas or make notes in the margins where you have questions.

If you would like more information on oxygen therapy, the following resource is available:


Canadian Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology Foundation (CAAIF)
774 Echo Drive
Ottawa, ON  K1S 5N8
Phone: (613) 730-6272
Fax: (613) 730-1116
Email: caaif@royalcollege.ca
Web Address: www.allergyfoundation.ca

The Canadian Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology Foundation (CAAIF) provides information and education programs for Canadians with allergy, asthma, and allergic diseases, and supports asthma research in these areas.

Canadian Lung Association
3 Raymond Street
Suite 300
Ottawa, ON  K1R 1A3
Phone: 1-888-566-5864
(613) 569-6411
Fax: (613) 569-8860
Email: info@lung.ca
Web Address: http://www.lung.ca/

The Canadian Lung Association focuses on research, education, and the promotion of respiratory health. The organization offers educational information on a variety of diseases and environmental threats, as well as information on research, support groups, and resources for children and teachers. Call to find a local office in your area.

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By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Primary Medical Reviewer Brian D. O'Brien, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Ken Y. Yoneda, MD - Pulmonology
Last Revised July 8, 2010

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.