For some people, a steady supply of oxygen at home is the only way to cope with the effects of lung disease and be able to breathe better. In this case, your doctor will prescribe oxygen therapy-how frequently it should be used, how much should be consumed (liters per minute), and when you should use it every day. A simple blood test will confirm all of this. Some people will need oxygen only when doing something strenuous, such as extended periods of walking. Others may only need it at night. Many oxygen patients, however, need oxygen continuously—day, night, and when traveling—and will need to find a versatile solution that fits these rigorous needs.
There are three types of oxygen delivery systems:
This is the method that has been around a while and is only for portable use. Various size oxygen tanks are regularly delivered to your home. Each one has a regulator to control the rate of oxygen flow. You connect to these tanks via your cannula (a breathing device that hooks over your ears and extends into your nose) and oxygen is delivered to your lungs each time you take a breath. There are also smaller portable oxygen tanks for mobile use. One drawback to this approach is that you have to always have enough tanks on hand so you don’t run out, which means lots of visits from your oxygen provider and lots of tanks to store.
This method stores very cold liquid oxygen in a thermos-type of container (almost -297º F). You transfer this to a smaller delivery device to use around the house and in your travels. When the liquid is released, it changes back to a gas so that you can breathe it. Much smaller than the traditional canister system, liquid oxygen is a bit more expensive. You must be very careful using this equipment to avoid injury from the dangerously cold liquid oxygen.
Oxygen concentrators are newer, more portable electric devices that work by separating the oxygen out of the air around us and storing it for you to breathe. You don’t have to worry about canisters or refills. Many oxygen concentrators are small and allow the user much greater independence than other methods of oxygen therapy. Some are even permitted on commercial airlines. Another advantage of this system is you don’t have to worry about your home oxygen supplier as much as with the other methods-they just drop off the concentrator, teach you how to use it, and you’re good to go without lots of service visits or intrusions. The Inogen One System was the first single solution portable oxygen concentrator.
Single Solution Oxygen Concentrators
This is a new technology, in which a portable oxygen concentrator is capable of satisfying all of your oxygen needs: stationary, portable, and travel. These innovative oxygen machines are made for the kind of patient who is looking to achieve independence from his or her condition. Note that some portable concentrators are not Single Solutions because they are not appropriate for stationary, ambulatory, and travel use.
Safety and Oxygen Therapy
OXYGEN SUPPORTS COMBUSTION AND AN OXYGEN RICH ENVIRONMENT CAN INCREASE THE RISK OF A FIRE. You should never, ever smoke while using oxygen. Don’t let anyone else smoke anywhere near you, either. Avoid any sort of open flame, such as candles, gas burners on a stove, or fireplaces while using oxygen. If you go to a restaurant, stay in the nonsmoking section.
Since oxygen canisters are so large and heavy, make sure that it is stable and won’t fall over. Most oxygen providers will give you a stand that can hold it securely. If you use liquid oxygen, keep the container standing up straight and be very careful handling it and refilling your portable oxygen tank. Liquid oxygen is very cold, and can injure you if it touches your skin. If you use an oxygen concentrator, you don’t have quite as much to worry about, but try not to use an extension cord, as this can elevate the risk for an electrical fire (as with any appliance).
Finally, keep a fire extinguisher close by in your house. Your provider will go over the safety features of whatever type of oxygen equipment you and your doctor choose, but things can go wrong no matter how well you prepare. If you’re not using a concentrator, you should also let your local fire department know that you are keeping oxygen in your home.