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A patient’s guide to oxygen at home

Read our guide below about oxygen at home.

You can also download a PDF version of this patient information by following the link on the right.

Why have I been prescribed oxygen?

You have been prescribed oxygen because you have a long-term condition which affects your ability to maintain enough oxygen in your blood. Oxygen is not a treatment for breathlessness when oxygen levels are satisfactory.

Long Term Oxygen Therapy, (LTOT), has been shown to improve the quality of life and life expectancy of some people with conditions such as those listed below:

  • chronic obstrutive pulmonary disease  (COPD)
  • severe chronic asthma
  • bronchiectasis
  • cystic fibrosis
  • pulmonary hypertension
  • chronic heart failure
  • interstitial lung disease.

Portable or Ambulatory Oxygen, (AMBOT), is prescribed for people who are already on LTOT and want to continue with oxygen treatment outside the home.

Some people may require AMBOT when their oxygen levels drop on exertion.  This helps to reduce the workload on the heart and aids breathlessness and fatigue.

LTOT is usually prescribed for at least 15 hours a day and is usually worn overnight; this can include the time when using AMBOT.

Assessment information

You will be normally have been assessed by a respiratory specialist nurse at home following a referral from your GP or hospital consultant.

Some people may be prescribed oxygen as a temporary measure on discharge from hospital or if they are unwell and can be supported safely at home to avoid admission to hospital.

Part of the respiratory nurse’s assessment will include looking at the treatment you are receiving including any medication or inhalers and making sure you are using them to their best effect. They will give you advice on managing your breathlessness and liaise with your GP if any changes need to be made to your treatment.

The nurse will be able to advise you on how to manage your oxygen at home and will assess for any possible risks or hazards.  You will be asked to sign a disclaimer to ensure you understand how to manage your oxygen safely.

Pulmonary Rehabilitation may be recommended if appropriate, as improving your fitness has been shown to improve oxygen levels as well as helping to reduce breathlessness.

Assessment for home oxygen

Before oxygen is prescribed a special blood test is required to measure the amount of oxygen and carbon dioxide in your blood. This involves taking a sample of blood from the artery in your wrist and will be done by a respiratory physiologist as an outpatient at the hospital.

It is important to determine the correct amount of oxygen that you require so that the level of oxygen you are prescribed is safe. In certain conditions blood carbon dioxide levels can be abnormally raised and it can be dangerous to give high flow rates of oxygen. This will be assessed when you attend your appointment. If you have high carbon dioxide levels we will let you know and you may be supplied with an alert card to show other healthcare professionals who are involved with your care.

If you are being assessed for AMBOT you will be asked to walk for up to 6 minutes on a level at the appointment. The physiologist will measure your oxygen levels using a finger probe to see if using oxygen may help you and assess what flow rate you require.

Your oxygen equipment

Following this assessment the oxygen equipment will be ordered by the respiratory nurses.  Dolby Vivisol, the oxygen supplier, will arrange a suitable time for you to install it and demonstrate how to use it. It is often useful to have another person with you when this is being done.

LTOT is supplied through a concentrator which runs off your electricity supply; a large back up cylinder will be supplied in case of a power failure. AMBOT will be supplied in small portable cylinders.

Once your oxygen supply has been set up a specialist nurse will review you again at home within a few weeks to ensure that you are managing your oxygen and that it is at the right level for you. Any adjustments to your equipment can be made at this stage.

You will receive a date to go back to the hospital for reassessment at regular intervals; usually this will be every 6-12 months.

Oxygen is a medicine and like all medicines it is important that you do not alter the dose and regime that has been prescribed for you. If you feel that any changes need to be made to your oxygen prescription, talk to one of the respiratory nurses.

Advice about using oxygen at home

  • Do not adjust your oxygen flow rate yourself.
  • Oxygen is a highly flammable gas. It is dangerous to smoke with oxygen. If you do smoke you should remove the oxygen and switch it off 30 minutes prior to smoking and preferably move to another room or go outside. DO NOT ALLOW OTHERS TO SMOKE IN THE SAME ROOM AS THE OXYGEN.
  • Keep your oxygen away from naked flames e.g. gas fire/cooker and do not use candles in the same room as the oxygen.
  • If your nose is sore or crusty try using KY jelly on a cotton bud applying gently to the area. Do not use Vaseline or other creams containing liquid paraffin or petroleum.
  • Ensure you drink regularly as oxygen can be very drying.
  • Having your mask or nasal cannula too tight may lead to sores on the top of your ears. Please check them regularly and seek advice if this occurs.
  • If you notice increased frequency of headaches especially in the morning please contact us.
  • Inform your house insurance provider that you have oxygen at home and your car insurance provider if carrying oxygen in the car to ensure you are covered in the event of a fire or car accident. It will not increase your premium.
  • A rebate on your electric bill will be paid by the oxygen supplier; liaise directly with them for details.

Sources of help and support

Buckinghamshire Integrated Respiratory Service (BIRS)

The Annexe, Thame Community Hospital, East Street, Thame OX9 3JT
Monday to Friday – 8.15 to 18.30
Weekends/Bank Holidays – 9.00 to 16.30
Direct Dial: 01296 255670

If you require medical advice out of hours please dial 111.

In the event of an emergency please call 999.

Respiratory Investigations Unit (RIU), Wycombe Hospital Tel: 01494 426927

DOLBY VIVISOL Tel: 0800 917 9840

British Lung Foundation, Tel: 0300 003 0555

Local ‘Breathe Easy’ Group