Using Oxygen Safely & Comfortably

Most people adjust very well to using oxygen, although a few things can be done to make the experience more comfortable. Oxygen can be very drying to the body, especially to the nose. There are several ways to relieve this dryness. First, distilled water is often added to the oxygen to increase moisture, especially at higher flow rates.

To treat a dry nose, you can apply an over-the-counter, water-based lubricant to the nose several times a day. (Your pharmacist can recommend a product.) Also, try to inhale through your nose rather than your mouth, as the latter wastes oxygen and can cause dry mouth. Alternatively, to relieve a sore or uncomfortable nose, try putting the cannula in your mouth for two to three hours several times a day to give your nose a rest.

Using oxygen effectively

Oxygen can be dangerous if not used and monitored carefully. For example, it is flammable, so no one should smoke while someone is using oxygen nearby. Stay at least 5 feet away from open flames such as gas stoves, lighted fireplaces and candles. Also, avoid flammable products such as aerosol sprays, paint thinners and rubbing alcohol. Vapor rubs and petroleum jelly also are flammable and should be kept away from the oxygen canisters.

You should keep a fire extinguisher nearby and be sure to let your local fire department know that oxygen is being used in the house.

When beginning home oxygen therapy, ask a representative from the medical supply company to come to your home and show you (and family members) how to use the equipment properly. Ask for specific instructions on how to clean and maintain the equipment.

Finally, make sure you always have access to the oxygen. Order the next supply early enough to ensure that it arrives before you need it. Keep your medical supply company's emergency phone numbers accessible in case of an equipment failure. And alert your electric company that you have electrical oxygen equipment in your home—you should receive priority service in the event of a power failure.

If you plan to travel by air with a portable oxygen concentrator, be sure that you're using a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)-approved device. All FAA-approved devices display a label indicating that they meet FAA requirements for portable medical electronic devices.

When to Call Your Doctor

If you are on oxygen and develop confusion, headaches or drowsiness, you may be getting too much oxygen and may need to have your carbon dioxide levels checked. Blue fingernails or lips indicate low blood oxygen levels. Any of these symptoms should prompt an immediate call to your doctor.

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

Published: 24 Jun 2013

Last Modified: 24 Jun 2013