Using oxygen at home

Because of your sickness, you may need to use oxygen to help you breathe. You will need to know how to use and store your oxygen.

See also: Oxygen safety

Kinds of Oxygen

Your oxygen will be stored under pressure in tanks. You can get large tanks to keep in your home and small tanks to take with you when you go out.

Liquid oxygen is the best kind to use.

  • Liquid oxygen takes up less space than oxygen tanks.
  • Liquid oxygen is the easiest form of oxygen to transfer to smaller tanks to take with you when you go out.
  • Liquid oxygen will slowly run out, even when you are not using it.

You will need an oxygen concentrator.

  • This machine makes sure your oxygen supply does not run out. The concentrator never has to be refilled.
  • The concentrator needs electricity to work. You must have a back-up tank of oxygen gas in case your power goes out.

Ways to Breathe the Oxygen

You will need other equipment to use your oxygen.

One item is called a nasal cannula. This plastic tubing wraps over your ears, like eyeglasses, with two prongs that fit into your nostrils.

  • Wash the plastic tuing once or twice a week with soap and water, and then rinse very well.
  • Replace your cannula every 2 to 4 weeks.
  • If you get a cold, change the cannula when your cold is over.

You may need an oxygen mask. The mask fits over the nose and mouth. It is best for when you need higher amounts of oxygen.

  • Replace your mask every 2 to 4 weeks.
  • If you get a cold, change the mask when your cold is over.

Some people may need a transtracheal catheter. This is a small catheter or tube that is placed into your windpipe by surgery.

If you are using a transtracheal catheter, have your health care provider teach you how to clean your catheter and humidifier bottle.

Tell Others You Use Oxygen at Home

Tell your local fire department, electric company, and telephone company that you use oxygen in your home.

  • They will restore power sooner to your house or neighborhood if the power goes out.
  • Keep their phone numbers in a place where you can find them easily.

Tell your neighbors, friends, and family that you use oxygen. They can help during an emergency.

Using Oxygen

Using oxygen may make your lips, mouth, or nose dry:

  • Use a water-based lubricant (such as K-Y jelly) to add moisture to them.
  • Do not use Vaseline, petroleum jelly, or other oil-based products.

Place some gauze under the oxygen tubing behind your ear. This will help keep the skin from getting sore.

DO NOT STOP OR CHANGE your flow of oxygen. Talk with your doctor, nurse, or respiratory therapist if you think you are not getting the right amount. Take good care of your teeth and gums.

Travel and Oxygen

You need to make sure oxygen will be available for you during your trip. If you plan to fly with oxygen, tell the airline before your trip that you plan to bring oxygen. Many airlines have special rules about traveling with oxygen.

See also: Traveling with breathing problems

When to Call the Doctor

If you have any of the following symptoms, first check your oxygen equipment:

  • Make sure the connections between the tubes and your oxygen supply are not leaking.
  • Make sure the oxygen is flowing.

If your oxygen equipment is working well, call your health care provider if:

  • You are getting a lot of headaches.
  • You feel more nervous than usual.
  • Your lips or fingernails are blue.
  • You feel drowsy or confused.
  • Your breathing is slow, shallow, difficult, or irregular.

Call your child’s doctor if your child is on oxygen and is:

  • Breathing faster than usual
  • Flaring nostrils when they breathe
  • Making a grunting noise
  • Pulling in their chest with each breath
  • Losing their appetite
  • A dusky, grey, or bluish color around the lips, gums, or eyes
  • Irritable
  • Having trouble sleeping
  • Looking short of breath
  • Very limp or weak

Alternate Names

Oxygen - home use

Update Date: 5/29/2012

Updated by: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Review provided by VeriMed HealthCare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.


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