A variety of oxygen delivery systems and oxygen concentration devices are available. All forms of oxygen therapy are expensive; costs may be several hundred dollars a month or more, depending on the system used. Oxygen concentrators are the least costly, although their use can increase your electric bill.

Compressed gas. This type of oxygen is stored under pressure in steel or aluminum canisters and must be purchased from a supplier. Larger canisters are usually used in the home; smaller ones are used when away from home. Normally, the outflow of oxygen from the canister is constant, but some systems have an oxygen-conserving device that releases oxygen only when you inhale. When using portable canisters, learn how long each one will last so you can time your outings accordingly.

Liquid oxygen. Liquid oxygen is stored at a very cold temperature; it becomes a gas when released from the container. Like compressed gas, liquid oxygen must be purchased and stored in canisters and may include an oxygen-conserving device. Liquid oxygen is more portable than compressed gas because larger amounts can be stored in smaller containers. That's why active people often prefer it. However, it has a limited shelf life and is more expensive than compressed gas.

Oxygen concentrators. An electric device called an oxygen concentrator can be used to extract oxygen from room air, which is about 20 percent oxygen. Oxygen concentrators are easier to maintain than other forms of oxygen therapy, and they may be ideal for people who spend most of their time at home. But they are not suitable for everyone.

Concentrators are not portable, some of them emit heat and are noisy, and the concentration of oxygen is lower than that in purchased gas or liquid oxygen. Also, a backup source of oxygen is necessary in case of power failure.

Oxygen delivery methods

In most cases, oxygen is delivered to the nose via a cannula—a two-pronged tube device that connects to the oxygen canister or concentrator and rests just inside the nostrils. The tubing can either rest on the ears or be attached to eyeglasses. Some people purchase eyeglass frames with a built-in cannula to make oxygen therapy a little less noticeable.

Cannulas allow a person to eat and drink while still receiving oxygen. A mask that fits over the nose and mouth may be better suited for someone who needs a high flow of oxygen. In addition, some people who normally use a nasal cannula find a mask more effective when they have nasal congestion or irritation caused by a cold.

Some people may choose to receive oxygen directly into the lungs through a catheter inserted into a surgically created hole in the trachea (windpipe). This procedure is most appropriate for people who require a high flow of oxygen, because these individuals often use less oxygen when it is delivered directly into the lungs. The catheter needs meticulous daily cleaning, however, so that mucus does not collect on the tip of the device and block the trachea.

Publication Review By: Peter B. Terry, M.D., M.A.

Published: 24 Jun 2013

Last Modified: 24 Jun 2013