Oxygen Safety Tips for Those with COPD on Supplemental Oxygen

Oxygen Safety from Smoking to Candles to Storage

If you have the chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or another condition which requires supplemental oxygen, understanding proper oxygen safety is essential. Can smoking near oxygen really be dangerous? Can you use a gas stove on oxygen? What about candles? These oxygen safety tips will teach you the truth about what is dangerous, how to avoid some common pitfalls you've likely never considered, what personal care products you should avoid, and what you need to know about storing oxygen canisters. What is dangerous and what isn't if you are on home oxygen therapy?

When you're finished, you may also wish to read the Complete Guide to Oxygen Therapy to learn about the basics of oxygen therapy and get answers for other questions you have. 

Don't Smoke Anywhere Near Oxygen - Here's Why

Oxygen is a safe, nonflammable gas, but it does support combustion, meaning that materials burn more readily in its presence. That includes cigarettes.

Although the vast majority of burn injuries and deaths are not related to smoking and home oxygen, they aren't completely uncommon. They occur more often than we'd like to think. Just read these statistics:

  • A review conducted by the Fire Incident Data Organization found that seven percent of all victims who died in fires caused by smoking were using medical oxygen.
  • The National Ethics Committee reports that when a fire occurs and home oxygen is involved, it is usually caused by smoking.
  • A study of burn injuries that required emergency room treatment found that 24 out of the 27 cases were related to fires that started when the patient was lighting up a cigarette.
  • The Centers for Disease Control reports that 89 percent of deaths related to fire and home oxygen use is caused by smoking.
  • The rate of burn injury is twice in high in Denmark (where oxygen therapy can be used for those who smoke) than in Sweden (where smoking is contraindicated in those on home oxygen therapy.)

Keep in mind that most of these statistics only talk about death. For each of those who die in fires, there are much more who end up coping with painful and disabling burns. In one review, of those who received burns secondary to home oxygen therapy and survived, 35 percent were unable to return home or live independently due to the burns.

Despite these shocking statistics, many smokers who use supplemental oxygen at home aren't ready to quit. If you fall into this category, remember smoking while actively using oxygen is the most dangerous thing you can do.

For those who smoke, it's important to note that some researchers believe that, aside from the fire hazard, some of the physiological mechanisms by which oxygen therapy can help those with COPD are inhibited by smoking.

A 2015 review in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings considered these different findings. The conclusion at this time is that the benefits of oxygen therapy for people with COPD outweighs the risk of burn injury, but emphasizes that both patients and physicians should be educated about the potential risks.

You should never smoke, or allow anyone else to smoke in your home or car while oxygen is in use. If you must smoke, discuss removing your oxygen and smoking far away from your oxygen source—preferably outside—with your doctor.

What about e-cigarettes?

At the current time, the warning about smoking includes both regular cigarettes and e-cigarettes.

Keep Oxygen Canisters Away from Open Flames

Avoiding open flames when you use oxygen may seem easy, but have you considered fireplaces, gas stoves, and even candles?

Oxygen canisters must be kept at least five to ten feet away from an open flame, including gas stoves, lit fireplaces, wood burning stoves, and candles. Some people go so far as to keep their canisters in an entirely different room by using long oxygen tubing.

You can find relatively inexpensive extended oxygen tubing online and at medical supply stores. You can also check with your own oxygen supply company to see what tubing options are available that may also be covered by your insurance. Learn more about the oxygen supplies which are covered by Medicare.

Avoid Using an Electric Razor

Many oxygen supply companies recommend that patients using supplemental oxygen not use it while shaving with an electric razor.

Electric razors are a potential source of sparks. As innocuous as a tiny little spark may seem, it can lead to a full-blown fire once it comes in contact with a combustible gas like oxygen. If you use home oxygen, it's best to shave the old fashioned way: with shaving cream and a hand razor.

Avoid Using Petroleum-Based Lotions and Creams

Many body lotions and creams are made with petroleum, a highly flammable mixture of hydrocarbons. 

According to the American Lung Association, "the combustion of flammable products containing petroleum [like Vaseline] can also be supported by the presence of oxygen."

If you're using oxygen, it's best to stick to products that don't contain petroleum. Read the ingredient list before you use or buy anything, or ask your doctor what products she would recommend.

Store Oxygen Cylinders Safely

Because oxygen supports combustion, it's important to store it safely and securely.  Tips include:

  • Do not store oxygen cylinders near any type of heat source, near a gas stove, or near lit candles.
  • Store canisters upright.
  • Make sure oxygen canisters are secure and will not fall over or roll.

An oxygen storage cart or another device can help keep your canisters in the proper position.

Turn Off Oxygen When Not in Use

Turning your oxygen off when you are not using it is one of the safest and smartest things you can do. It can be difficult enough to forget safety measures when you are connected to oxygen, but all too easy if you aren't. Make sure that out-of-sight can be safely out of mind.

Not only will turning off your oxygen save you money, but it will support home safety and reduce your risk of in-home fires.

Follow Your Oxygen Supplier's Instructions

Before beginning oxygen therapy in your home, it's important for you to understand and always follow your oxygen supplier's instructions. In addition to oxygen delivery, the supplier should also include company-specific instructions for safe use and storage of your oxygen canisters.

These instructions should also include a phone number to call if you have any questions. Keep the company's phone number posted in a visible location for easy access.

Oxygen Emergency Tips

After making sure you are familiar with the home dangers of oxygen therapy, and how to avoid them, take a moment to review these oxygen emergency tips about how to keep your oxygen flowing during a power outage.

It's also a good idea to review how to properly use a fire extinguisher.


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