Oxygen Therapy: Care Instructions

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Oxygen therapy helps you get more oxygen into your lungs and bloodstream. You may use it if you have a disease that makes it hard to breathe, such as COPD, pulmonary fibrosis (scarring of the lungs), or heart failure. Oxygen therapy can make it easier for you to breathe and can reduce your 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 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. People who need a lot of oxygen may need to use a mask that fits over the nose and mouth.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

To help yourself

  • Using oxygen may dry out your nose or lips. Use water-based lubricants on your lips or nostrils. Do not use an oil-based product like petroleum jelly. They may cause skin burns.
  • If you use a nasal cannula, the tubing may rub under your nostrils and around your ears. To keep your skin from getting sore, tuck some gauze under the tubing. Use a water-based lotion on rubbed areas.
  • Do not use alcohol or take drugs that relax you, because they will slow your breathing rate.
  • Keep track of how much oxygen is in the tank, and reorder before it runs out. If a holiday is coming up or you expect bad weather, order in advance or make your regular order larger.
  • You may need extra oxygen when you travel to high altitudes or travel by plane. Ask your doctor about this.
  • If you are getting oxygen directly to your windpipe through an opening in your neck, your doctor will teach you how to care for the equipment.

To make sure oxygen is flowing

  • Check the flow by holding your mask or cannula up to your ear and listening for the "hiss" of airflow.
  • If you have a nasal cannula, dip the prongs in a glass of water. If you see bubbles, oxygen is coming through.
  • Check your pressure gauge or contents indicator.
  • If you use an oxygen concentrator, make sure it is turned on and plugged in. If you use a cylinder, make sure the valve is open.
  • Look for kinks, blockages, or water in the tubing. Be sure the tubing is connected to the oxygen source.
  • Do not change your oxygen flow rate. Your doctor sets this at the correct level. Higher flow rates usually do not help and can increase the risk of harmful carbon dioxide buildup in the blood.

To be safe

  • Do not leave cords or tubing running across an area where you or someone else may trip on it.
  • Do not let oxygen containers get hot. Store them in a cool place where there is airflow. Do not leave them in a car trunk or a hot vehicle.
  • Keep oxygen containers upright. Make sure they do not fall over and get damaged. Try securing the tanks in a sturdy container or securing them with a rope or a chain.
  • Avoid touching frost that can form on liquid oxygen devices. Frost can cause skin burns.
  • Watch for signs of oxygen leaks. If you hear a loud hissing from your container or if it empties too fast, stay away from the container. Open windows right away and call the company that brought the oxygen system to your home.
  • Do not use oxygen around anything that could spark or easily cause a fire.
    • Do not smoke or vape or let others smoke or vape while you are using oxygen. Put up "no smoking" signs in your home.
    • Do not use oxygen near open flames, such as candles, fireplaces, gas stoves, or hot water heaters. Do not use it near electric razors, hair dryers, heating pads, or anything that may spark.
    • Keep a working fire extinguisher in your home where it is easy to get to.
    • If a fire starts, turn off the oxygen right away and leave the house.
    • If you have an oxygen concentrator, do not use it if the cord looks damaged. Do not use an extension cord to plug it in. Do not plug it into an outlet that has other appliances plugged into it.

To care for the equipment

  • Follow the directions that come with the equipment for using and caring for it.
  • Wash your cannula or mask with a liquid soap and warm water daily. Replace them every 2 to 4 weeks.
  • If you have a cold, change the nasal prongs when your cold symptoms are done.
  • If you have an oxygen concentrator, unplug the unit and wipe down the cabinet with a damp cloth daily. Clean the air filter at least once a week.

Where can you learn more?

Go to http://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.