What Is Home Oxygen Therapy?

Susan Abe
Susan Abe
Tanks of oxygen for oxygen therapy.
Tanks of oxygen for oxygen therapy.

Home oxygen therapy is the provision and administration of supplemental oxygen to a patient in his or her home. It is used to treat respiratory conditions that limit the body's ability to absorb room oxygen for tissue oxygenation, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or emphysema, chronic bronchitis, cystic fibrosis, lung cancer or congestive heart failure. Supplemental home oxygen therapy may also be used when the body requires a greater than normal amount of oxygen for cell metabolism, such as during some cancers or during recovery from burns. Oxygen therapy can be continuous or used only when sleeping or during activity, depending upon the patient's needs.

This form of treatment is considered a "drug" and requires a doctor's prescription in some countries. A prescription or recommendation for home oxygen therapy is based on low oxygen saturation rates in the blood as measured by a pulse oximeter or an arterial blood gas (ABG) test. Measurements of a patient's blood oxygen values during sleep, at rest and during activity will determine whether the oxygen therapy is to be continuous or only during special times. Oxygen therapy is measured in liters per minute (LPM) and usually ranges from 2 LPM to 6 LPM in a home setting.

There are three usual forms in which home oxygen therapy is provided: concentrators, compressed gas and liquid oxygen. Oxygen concentrators are large, usually stationary devices that use room air to remove nitrogen gas and thus provide oxygen. These machines need electricity to operate and require a back-up system in the case of electrical power failure. Compressed gas is provided in metal cylinders which are refilled by the oxygen supply company when empty. Liquid oxygen systems use a small portable container to hold liquid oxygen that turns into gas form as it is released.

Most patients will require at least two forms of home oxygen therapy systems to have one as a back-up system in the case of electrical power failure. It is also recommended that patients register for priority service with the company that provides their electricity if they use a concentrator. Active patients sometimes use all three types of therapy, depending upon whether they are at home, traveling or out in public. They often use a concentrator at home, cylinders during transportation and liquid oxygen in a purse-sized system when out walking or shopping in public.

Home oxygen therapy will require that the patient, family and visitors follow some general safety guidelines. Appliances that may spark should not be used with oxygen systems and a gas stove is not compatible with home oxygen use. "No Smoking" signs should be placed on the front door and in the patient's room. The local fire department should be informed that home oxygen therapy is provided at the address so that they can check to ensure that all smoke detectors are in working order.

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    • Tanks of oxygen for oxygen therapy.
      Tanks of oxygen for oxygen therapy.