Using oxygen therapy at home: A patient and Carers guide

What is oxygen therapy?

Oxygen therapy means using an oxygen cylinder or a machine to breathe in air that contains more oxygen than normal.

How does oxygen work?

Oxygen therapy increases the amount of oxygen in the lungs and the bloodstream. A person with a heart or lung disease may need oxygen therapy if they have low oxygen levels in their blood. Oxygen is only used for this purpose – it is not a treatment for breathlessness.

There are rare exceptions for using oxygen, like people suffering with certain diseases of nerves and/or muscles, or those with a specific type of headache.Oxygen therapy may be given by different methods, including:

  • Tube placed under a person’s nose (nasal cannula)
  • A face mask placed over a person’s mouth and nose(oxygen face mask)
  • An endotracheal tube placed into the mouth and down the windpipe of a person who cannot breathe on their own. The tube is attached to a machine (ventilator) that breathes for the person or via a mask attached to an opening in the throat called a tracheotomy.

What are the benefits of oxygen at home?

Oxygen therapy corrects the low oxygen levels in your bloodstream caused by your heart or lung disease. By correcting the oxygen level, it helps your body to function better.

Sometimes you may not feel an immediate benefit from using the oxygen, but long term benefits have been shown. Home oxygen can be prescribed in several different forms, and the health professional that assesses and discusses your lifestyle with you will decide the best method for you.

Using oxygen therapy at home

You may only need oxygen at home for a short period of time. Being prescribed oxygen wither after a hospital stay or after an assessment by a health professional does not mean you will need oxygen for the rest of your life.

If you do need oxygen at home, it is important to learn how to use and take care of your equipment.

This information will help you get the most from your oxygen treatment and use the equipment safely.

Basic Instructions If you use nasal cannulae (prongs)
Do not light candles, lanterns, fires, and cookers or smoke while you are using oxygen equipment. There is a serious risk of fire or burns. Wash the nasal prongs with soap and water once or twice a week. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions on caring for our equipment.
Do not change the setting on your oxygen without talking to your doctor/nurse/specialist or member of the Oxygen Team first. Turning the flow rate up or down could put you in danger. Replace the prongs every two to four weeks. If you have a cold or flu, change them when your symptoms pass. Your home oxygen supplier can provide this for you.
Keep track of how much oxygen is in the cylinder/tank (in case you are not on an oxygen concentrator – a machine that plugs into an electric socket), and order in advance so you don’t run out. Use a water-based moisturiser (such as KY Jelly or similar) on your lips and in your nose to prevent drying and cracking. Read labels and look for a product that lists water as the first ingredient.
Do not drink alcohol or take drugs that relax you such as sleeping pills, sedatives or recreational drugs, while using oxygen. They can cause you to breathe too slowly. Do not use petroleum-based products (such as Vaseline petroleum jelly) as these can plug the air holes. They are also a fire hazard and can potentially cause chemical burns.
Call your GP if you feel increasingly short of breath, restless or confused, have early morning headaches or are very tired. Put a piece of gauze under the tubing to keep the skin behind your ears from getting sore.

Is it safe to use oxygen at home?

YES. However, you must use it safely. Oxygen is a fire hazard and can build up unnoticed on clothing and in hair as you breathe. Even while you sleep and use oxygen, the bedding can become saturated. This is only a problem if there are sources of ignition such as smoking o heat sources which may cause a spark or fire.

In oxygen enriched atmospheres, fabrics, wood paper and other materials which normally do not burn easily in air could suddenly catch fire on contact with a small spark, cigarette or naked flame. Fatty substances, oils and greases may also ignite in oxygen.

Many people use oxygen safely every day, but you MUST follow these important safety measures to keep you and your family/carers safe.

  • Keep oxygen at least two metres (6 feet) away from open fires, naked flames or heat sources such as gas cookers, paraffin or gas heaters, candles, cigarettes, electronic cigarettes, cigars and fireplaces.
  • Never smoke or let anyone else smoke in the same room as you while you are using oxygen equipment (this includes electronic cigarettes). Put up No Smoking signs, and be aware of people smoking near you if you are using your oxygen outside of your home.
  • Avoid using barrier medications or creams that contain petroleum, oil or paraffin. Ask your pharmacist or care provider to recommend suitable non-flammable alternatives.
  • Do not use flammable products such as cleaning fluid, paint thinner or aerosols while you are using oxygen.
  • Keep a fire extinguisher at home within easy reach.
  • Safely store all oxygen equipment as advised by engineers and make sure you understand how to use it.
  • Keep oxygen cylinders upright. Make sure they do not fall over and get damaged, especially when travelling in a vehicle. Ask your supplier for a transport box.
  • Inform your local fire station that you have oxygen at home. They can advise you on staying safe.
  • Ensure you have smoke/fire alarms on every floor of your home that are in working order (the local Fire Service can advise you and supply you with them). These should be tested weekly.

Will I become dependent on oxygen?

NO. You have been prescribed oxygen as you have low blood oxygen levels
You will be advised on how many hours per day you need to use it. However, if you want to go out or have a short time away from home, it will normally be alright to come off the oxygen for a while. Sometimes you may be prescribed oxygen to use outside of the home. You will not become dependent on oxygen, and it will never lose its useful effects.

Will I have to be treated with oxygen forever?

Every person is different and it is impossible to tell if you will always need oxygen therapy.
Blood tests look at the amount of oxygen you have in your blood. This tells us if you need more or less oxygen, or if it can be stopped and removed from your home.

Can I have too much oxygen?

YES. It is important to attend any oxygen review appointments or speak to you doctor/nurse/specialist if your oxygen needs have not been assessed in the last 12 months.

Oxygen is a prescribed drug that all patients must be carefully assessed for. It is not true that oxygen can cause no harm. Only a small number of people who have been assessed will need oxygen prescribing and benefit from it. People who take oxygen when they do not have low oxygen levels in their blood may get several short and long term harmful effects such as loss of independence, muscle wasting and an increase of carbon dioxide levels in the bloodstream, and as breathing may become poor, this could become life threatening.

If you are worried that you or someone you know has been given oxygen without a proper assessment, please contact your GP or member of the Oxygen ~Team. If you were given oxygen when you were ill in hospital, you need to be assessed again. You may be taking oxygen unnecessarily and be at risk of harmful side effects.

Can I travel if I have oxygen?

YES. Plan in advance to make sure your trip goes well.

  • Talk to your GP for advice on whether you’re safe to travel, and what you need to do to stay safe while travelling. Get at least one copy of your Home Oxygen Order Form (HOOF), along with your usual medication, to take with you on the trip. If travelling abroad, have an early discussion with your GP or community nurse.
  • Travelling with oxygen can be done if you plan ahead. Before the trip, tell the travel company that you use oxygen. Do this well in advance as they may have requirements that can take some time to arrange.
  • Travel insurance is essential when travelling with oxygen. The British Lung Foundation and the British Heart Foundation can provide a list of companies that insure travellers with oxygen.
  • Tell your oxygen supplier about your plans, as it may be possible to have oxygen delivered directly to your destination. You will need a copy of your Home Oxygen Order Form (HOOF) for this.

Now that you have read this information, you are ready to start using oxygen at home.

Talk with your GP, nurse or specialist

If you have questions about this information, take it with you when you visit your healthcare professional. You may want to make areas or make notes where you have questions. If you would prefer a hard copy, you can download this factsheet here.

If you have a community matron or district nurse, remember to ask them if you have any queries or concerns about your oxygen.

If you are a smoker, we strongly advise that you speak with your GP or nurse about stopping. For more information visit

Contact Details

Home Oxygen Service, Northampton General Hospital: 01604 523808

  • For further information or advice regarding your oxygen equipment contact Air Liquide on 0808 143 9993.
  • British Lung Foundation:
    0300 003 0555 (Monday – Friday 9am – 5pm)
  • British Heart Foundation:
    0300 330 3311 (Monday –Friday 9am – 5pm)