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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 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 including:

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

We prescribe portable or ambulatory oxygen (AMBOT) for people already on LTOT who want to continue oxygen treatment outside the home.

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

We usually prescribe LTOT for at least 15 hours a day. It’s usually worn overnight and this can include the time when using AMBOT.

How we assess you for oxygen at home

Your GP or a hospital consultant will refer you to a specialist respiratory nurse who will assess you at home.

You may be prescribed oxygen as a temporary measure on discharge from hospital, or if you’re unwell and can be supported safely at home to avoid admission to hospital.

The repiratory nurse’s assessment includes:

  • treatment you currently receive including medication or inhalers and their effectiveness
  • advice on managing breathlessness
  • liaison with your GP if you need any treatment changes.

The nurse will also

  • advise you on how to manage your oxygen at home
  • assess for any prossible risks or hazards
  • ask you to sign a disclaimer to ensure you understand how to manage your oxygen safely.

The nurse may recommend pulmonary rehabilitation if appropriate. Improving your fitness will improve oxygen levels as well as helping to reduce breathlessness.

Taking a blood test

Before we prescribe oxygen, you’ll need a special blood test 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. A respiratory physiologist will do this at an outpatient appopintment at the hospital.

Why do a blood test?

We need to determine the correct amount of oxygen that you need so that we can prescribe a safe level of oxygen. In certain conditions, blood carbon dioxide levels can raise abnormally and it can be dangerous to give high flow rates of oxygen.

We’ll assess this when you attend your outpatient appointment. If you have high carbon dioxide levels we’ll tell you. You may receieve an alert card to show other healthcare professionals involved with your care.

What can I expect from my blood test appointment?

If we assess you for AMBOT, we’ll ask you to walk for up to 6 minutes on a level during 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 need.

Providing your oxygen equipment

Following your assessment, our respiratory nurses will order the oxygen equipment. Dolby Vivisol, the oxygen supplier, will arrange a suitable time with you to install it and demonstrate how to use it.

It’s useful to have another person with you.

How the oxygen equipment works

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

After a specialist nurse sets your oxygen, they’ll review you again at home within a few weeks to ensure that you can manage your oxygen. They’ll check the levels and make any adjustments to your equipment if needed.

Ongoing assessments

You’ll get a date for a hospital reassessment, usually every 6 to 12 months.

You must not alter the dose and schedule that has been prescribed for you. If you feel that you need any changes making to your oxygen prescription, talk to one of the respiratory nurses.

Important advice for using oxygen at home

Don’t adjust your oxygen flow rate

If you need any adjustments to your oxygen, talk to one of the respiratory nurses.

Don’t smoke with oxygen

It’s a highly flammable gas. If you want to smoke, you should:

  • remove the oxygen
  • switch the oxygen off 30 minutes before smoking
  • move to another room or go outside to smoke
  • not allow others to smoke in the same room as your oxygen.

Keep your oxygen away from naked flames

This includes gas fires, cookers and candles.

If your nose feels sore or crusty

Use KY jelly on a cotton bud apllying gently to the affected area.

Do not use Vaseline or other creams containing liquid paraffin or petroleum.

Stay hydrated

Drink regularly. Oxygen can cause a dry mouth and throat.

Watch for sores on top of your ears

This may happen if you have your mask or nasal cannula too tight. Check them regularly and get advice if this happens.

Monitor headaches

If you notice an increase in the amount of headaches you get, especially in the mornings, contact us straight away.

Tell your house insurance and car insurance provider about your oxygen

They need to know to make sure you have cover in the event of a fire at home or a car accident. This will not increase your premium but could affect any claims you need to make if you don’t tell them.

Contact your electricity supplier

You’ll get a rebate on your electricity bill which the oxygen supplier will pay. Contact them directly for details.


About our patient information pages and leaflets

This patient advice is intended as general information only. We aim to make the information as up to date and accurate as possible, but please note that it is subject to change.

Always check specific advice on any concerns you may have with your doctor.


Help and support

Respiratory Investigations Unit (RIU)
Wycombe Hospital
01494 426927

Dolby Vivisol
0800 917 9840

British Lung Foundation
0300 003 0555

Local ‘Breathe Easy’ Group

Contact us

Buckinghamshire Integrated Respiratory Service (BIRS)
Opening times
Buckinghamshire Integrated Respiratory Service (BIRS)

01296 255670

Opening times

Monday to Friday, 8.15am to 6.30pm

Weekends and bank holidays, 9am to 4.30pm

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

In the event of an emergency please call 999.