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Safety of Portable Oxygen Concentrators

Every time we breathe, oxygen enters our respiratory system and is discharged into our bloodstream through our lungs and circulatory system. The third most abundant element in the universe after hydrogen and helium, oxygen is an odorless, colorless and tasteless gas at room temperature and a key catalyst in many chemical reactions.[1] So, while that does not make O2 flammable in and of itself, it does mean that oxygen users need to be cautious and keep a safe distance from fire, sparks and other flammable materials.[2]

Safety Tips and Precautions for Portable Oxygen Concentrators

Portable oxygen concentrators may provide the user with a level of freedom, mobility and independence that might not otherwise be possible, supplying oxygen-enriched air directly to the respiratory system. Portable oxygen concentrators (POCs) are safe. However, certain precautions should be taken to ensure continued safety, and if these precautions are adhered to, the use of a portable oxygen concentrator will be safe even when traveling by car or plane.

The American Lung Association encourages safety precautions for use of POC devices that are summarized here. Take note of the following tips[3]:

  1. Avoid any open flames in the presence of oxygen use. This would include matches, cigarette lighters, candles or smoking in any form. If anyone wishes to smoke while you are using a portable oxygen concentrator, kindly insist that they step outside or out of range of you and the unit.
  2. Exercise caution around other sources of heat such as portable electric or gas heaters, as well as ovens and stoves. Keep at least five feet between such sources of heat and POC oxygen sources.
  3. Avoid using petroleum based lotions or creams, or any other O2 flammable product, but rather use water-based products.
  4. Strictly follow the safety instructions provided by the oxygen supply company and the manufacturer.

Some other safety points to consider are[4]:

  • Never use or store a portable oxygen concentrator in poorly ventilated areas like closets, cabinets or the trunk of your car. This can create an oxygen-rich environment, and though that does not make O2 flammable, it does create a greater combustion risk.
  • Start the car before turning on the unit or charging it.
  • Do not leave the device in an automobile, but take the unit with you.
  • If the unit has been in a cold environment, allow it to warm up before use.
  • Do not allow inlets or outlets of the unit to be blocked at any time. Use only a manufacturer’s or manufacturer approved carrying case when traveling outside the home with the portable unit.

Encouraging for those who use POCs when traveling, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) generally requires that air carriers (airlines) conducting passenger service must permit someone with a disability to use an FAA-approved portable oxygen concentrator on all flights of aircraft that hold more than 19 seats. The unit should have a manufacturer’s label indicating that the device meets the FAA requirements.

For those utilizing a portable oxygen concentrator, there are considerable benefits and significant freedom of mobility to be enjoyed. By following simple safety guidelines, POC usage is safe, so get out there and enjoy your life with oxygen therapy. 

Frequently Asked Questions: Portable Oxygen Concentrator Safety

Is oxygen flammable? 

Many people have heard that there is an increased fire risk when oxygen is used, so it is only natural to wonder, “Is oxygen flammable?” Oxygen itself is not a flammable gas, but it does support combustion. This means that fires ignite and burn more easily, and hotter, in an oxygen-rich environment.[2] In order to maintain a safe environment while using supplemental oxygen, it is important to adhere to safe practices. Never smoke near oxygen, and always stay at least 5-10 feet away from heat sources, sparks and open flames. Keep your portable oxygen concentrator in a well-ventilated area at all times to avoid creating an oxygen-rich environment.[3]

Why is smoking not permitted near an oxygen source?

Smoking increases the risk of a fire when oxygen is in use, and puts the user in danger of severe burns or other serious injuries. In fact, studies show that the majority of fires where home oxygen was in use were caused by smoking.[5] Lighters, matches, cigarettes, cigars and even smoldering ashes are all a fire hazard near supplemental oxygen. Do not smoke, or allow anyone else to smoke, when you or someone else is using supplemental oxygen. It is simply not worth the risk.


  1. The Story of Oxygen | Respiratory Care (rcjournal.com) Heffner, John E. MD. “The Story of Oxygen.” Respiratory Care. Vol. No. 1 18-31. January 1, 2013
  2. Reducing the risk of oxygen-related fires and explosions in hospitals treating Covid-19 patients https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8223129/
  3. http://web.archive.org/web/20150906001006/http:/www.lung.org/lung-disease/copd/treating-copd/supplemental-oxygen.html
  4. Inogen Operator Manuals https://www.inogen.com/support/inogen-manuals/
  5. Kopf, David. “U.S. Home Oxygen Fires Claim a Life Every Four Days.” HME Business, HME Business, 19 Sept. 2019, hme-business.com/articles/2019/09/19/fires.aspx
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