5 Safety Tips for Using Supplemental Oxygen Therapy

Supplemental oxygen therapy can be a lifesaver for someone dealing with a condition such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)—an effective way to increase the amount of oxygen taken in to healthy, normal levels. ​

Oxygen therapy also presents some potential safety hazards, however. Although oxygen is a safe, nonflammable gas, it does support combustion—in other words, some materials can readily catch fire and burn in the presence of oxygen. For that reason, just as with any medical treatment, it's important to follow certain precautions while using it. If you or a loved one is prescribed supplemental oxygen therapy, here's what you need to know to stay safe.  

1
Don't Smoke Anywhere Near Oxygen

Oxygen therapy
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There's no question smoking is hazardous to health in the long-run. But for someone using oxygen therapy, lighting up can be instantly tragic. In 2008, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 89 percent of deaths related to fire and home oxygen use were caused by smoking, for example.

Aside from fatalities, people have sustained devastating injuries caused by smoking around oxygen. In one review of such injuries published in the Journal of Burn Care and Research in 2012, there was a 35 percent reduction in people who got burned who were able to go home or live independently after leaving the hospital. 

Even so, it's not unusual for someone with COPD to continue to smoke after going on oxygen therapy. If this applies to you, you should do everything in your power to kick the habit. If you simply can't, at the very least never light a cigarette (or use an e-cigarette) while you're receiving oxygen or even near your oxygen source. Talk to your doctor about reducing the risk of igniting a fire by removing your oxygen and going outside to smoke. 

2
Keep Oxygen Canisters Away from Open Flames

This may not be as easy to do as it seems.The safety rule is, oxygen canisters should be kept at least five to 10 feet away from any open flame, which can be anything from a fire in a fireplace to a gas or wood burning stove to a candle.

One way to put a safe distance between an open flame and your oxygen canister is to use extended oxygen tubing that's long enough to allow you to keep the canister in a different room. 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, but first, check with your oxygen supply company to see what tubing options may be covered by your insurance or Medicare.

3
Switch to a Non-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.

4
Pass on Petroleum-Based Lotions and Creams

Petroleum is found in products such as petroleum jelly (of course) and certain other ointments, creams, and lotions, as well as sunscreen and even lipstick and lip balm. It's also a highly flammable mixture of hydrocarbons.

For this reason, the American Lung Association recommends using only water-based products. Read the label on any skincare item you're thinking of buying to make sure it doesn't contain petroleum or ask your doctor to recommend products that will be safe for you to use.

5
Know How to Use Oxygen Safely

Start with smart storage. Oxygen canisters should be kept upright and in a place where they won't be able to fall over or roll; an oxygen storage cart or similar device is ideal. Store canisters well away from any type of heat source, gas stove, or lit candles. 

When you aren't using your oxygen, be sure to turn it off. Not only will getting into the habit of doing this lower the risk of in-home fire, it will save you money. 

Finally, post the phone number of the company that makes your oxygen canisters and other supplies in a visible location in case you have any questions about the equipment. And in the event of a fire, make sure you know how to properly use a fire extinguisher. Accidents can happen, but don't need to be tragic if you're prepared. 

Sources

Assimacopoulos, E., Liao, J., Heard, J., Kluesner, K., Wilson, J., and L. Wibbenmeyer. ​"The National Incidence and Resource Utilization of Burn Injuries Sustained While Smoking on Home Oxygen Therapy." Journal of Burn Care and Research. 2016. 37(1):25-31.

Lacasse, Y., Legare, M., and F. Maltais. ​"E-Cigarette Use in Patients Receiving Home Oxygen Therapy." Canadian Respiratory Journal. 2015. 22(2):83-5.

Murabit, A., and E. Tredget. ​"Review of Burn Injuries Secondary to Home Oxygen." Journal of Burn Care and Research. 2012. 33(2):212-7.

Tanash, H., Ringbaek, T., Huss, F., and M. Ekstrom. ​"Burn Injury During Long-Term Oxygen Therapy in Denmark and Sweden: The Potential Role of Smoking." International Journal of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. 2017. 12:193-197.