More and more people are using oxygen therapy outside the hospital setting. People with asthma, emphysema, chronic bronchitis, occupational lung disease, lung cancer, cystic fibrosis, or congestive heart failure may use oxygen therapy at home. It has also been used for treating headaches. A doctor must write a prescription for oxygen therapy. The prescription will spell out the flow rate and when you need to use it.
There are three common ways of providing oxygen therapy. Oxygen can be delivered to your home as a gas in cylinders or as a liquid in a vessel. There are oxygen concentrators available for home use too.
Compressed Gas – Oxygen is stored under pressure in a cylinder equipped with a regulator that controls the flow rate. Because the flow of oxygen out of the cylinder is constant, an oxygen-conserving device may be attached to the system to avoid waste. This device releases the gas only when you inhale and cuts it off when you exhale. Oxygen can be provided in a small cylinder that can be carried with you, but the large tanks are heavy and are only suitable for stationary use.
Liquid Oxygen – Oxygen is stored as a very cold liquid in a vessel very similar to a thermos. When released, the liquid converts to a gas and you breathe it in just like the compressed gas. This storage method takes up less space than the compressed gas cylinder, and you can transfer the liquid to a small, portable vessel at home. Liquid oxygen is more expensive than the compressed gas, and the vessel vents when not in use. An oxygen conserving device may be built into the vessel to conserve the oxygen.
Oxygen Concentrator – This is an electrically powered device that separates the oxygen out of the air, concentrates it, and stores it. This system has a number of advantages because it doesn't have to be resupplied and it is not as costly as liquid oxygen. Extra tubing permits the user to move around with minimal difficulty. Small, portable systems have been developed that afford even greater mobility. You must have a cylinder of oxygen as a backup in the event of a power failure.
There are three common means of oxygen delivery.
A nasal cannula is a two-pronged device inserted in the nostrils that is connected to tubing carrying the oxygen. The tubing can rest on the ears or be attached to the frame of eyeglasses.
People who need a high flow of oxygen generally use a mask. Some people who use a nasal cannula during the day prefer a mask at night or when their noses are irritated or clogged by a cold.
Transtracheal oxygen therapy requires the insertion of a small flexible catheter in the trachea or windpipe. The transtracheal catheter is held in place by a necklace. Since transtracheal oxygen bypasses the mouth, nose, and throat, a humdifier is absolutely required at flow rates of 1 LPM or greater.
You should never smoke while using oxygen. Warn visitors not to smoke near you when you are using oxygen. Put up no-smoking signs in your home where you most often use the oxygen. Stay at least five feet away from gas stoves, candles, lighted fireplaces, or other heat sources. Don't use any flammable products like cleaning fluid, paint thinner, or aerosol sprays while using your oxygen.
Use water-based lubricants on your lips or nostrils. Don't use an oil-based product like petroleum jelly. To prevent your cheeks or the skin behind your ears from becoming irritated, tuck some gauze under the tubing. If you have persistent redness under your nose, call your physician.
If you use an oxygen cylinder, make sure it is secured to some fixed object or in a stand. If you use liquid oxygen, make sure the vessel is kept upright to keep the oxygen from pouring out; the liquid oxygen is so cold it can hurt your skin. Keep a fire extinguisher close by, and let your fire department know that you have oxygen in your home. If you use an oxygen concentrator, notify your electric company so you will be given priority if there is a power failure. Also, avoid using extension cords if possible.