Oxygen Delivery Systems

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Oxygen Delivery Systems

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Oxygen can be delivered in several ways:

  • Concentrators, which take oxygen from the air, are the least expensive. But they need to be plugged into a power outlet and are fairly heavy [about 14 kg (30 lb)]. You might use an oxygen concentrator in your home. Portable oxygen concentrators are also available. These are lighter and may be used while travelling.
  • Cylinders, or tanks, of compressed or pressurized oxygen gas come in several sizes. The largest are too heavy to move around. Smaller tanks can be carried or pulled in a small cart. You might use a large tank as backup in your home and have smaller tanks for use outside the home.
  • Liquid oxygen takes up less room than oxygen gas. Because of this, smaller and lighter containers can hold more oxygen.

Oxygen can be given through a flexible plastic tube inserted in the nostrils (nasal cannula) or through a face mask.

  • The nasal cannula gives you the greatest freedom for moving around and talking. But this method may be more expensive than other devices because of oxygen lost to the air. The amount of oxygen actually inhaled may be less than with other methods of delivery.
  • People who need a higher flow of oxygen can use a face mask. But a face mask is less portable and gets in the way of talking and eating. You might use a face mask at night and a nasal cannula during the day.

Selecting the type of oxygen supply should be based on your ability to move around. People who seldom leave the house may find an oxygen concentrator gives the best combination of convenience and cost. More active people may have an oxygen concentrator at home and use a portable oxygen tank when they leave the house.

Oxygen is a fire hazard. It is important to follow safety measures to keep you and your family safe. With all oxygen delivery systems, do not use oxygen around lit cigarettes or an open flame, because the risk of fire or explosion is high. If you or those who care for you smoke, be sure to think very carefully about using oxygen therapy.


By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Caroline S. Rhoads, MD - Internal Medicine
Primary Medical Reviewer Brian D. O'Brien, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Ken Y. Yoneda, MD - Pulmonology
Last Revised July 9, 2010

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