The normal air we all breathe is made up mainly of nitrogen gas, with only 20 per cent being oxygen. Some people with medical conditions that affect their breathing need a higher concentration of oxygen than this, and use supplemental (extra) oxygen at home as part of their treatment.

Home oxygen therapy

There are 2 main types of equipment used in Australia for home oxygen therapy:

  • oxygen concentrators, which filter the nitrogen out of the air, providing almost pure oxygen; and
  • oxygen cylinders, which contain compressed oxygen gas.

Home oxygen therapy is considered a medicine. If you are using home oxygen it is important that you follow your doctor’s oxygen prescription, which explains when you should use oxygen and the flow rate you should use. The cost of home oxygen therapy is subsidised by the government for people who meet strict eligibility criteria.

Oxygen safety precautions

Oxygen is a safe, non-explosive gas when handled correctly. However, any material that is already burning will burn much faster and hotter in an oxygen-enriched environment, so the following precautions should be observed when you use home oxygen.

  • Keep the oxygen at least 3 metres from any open flame or heat source, such as candles or a gas stove, or from anything that could cause a spark.
  • Do not smoke or let anyone else smoke near the oxygen equipment.
  • Avoid using anything flammable near the oxygen, including petrol,
    cleaning fluid, and aerosol cans or sprays such as fresheners or
  • Do not allow alcoholic solutions, oil or grease to come into contact with oxygen supply devices. This includes petroleum jelly.
  • Check that all electrical equipment in the vicinity of the oxygen is properly grounded (earthed).
  • Avoid using electrical appliances such as hairdryers and razors while oxygen is in use.
  • Make sure you have smoke alarms in your house.
  • Keep the oxygen equipment clean and dust free.
  • Always plug your oxygen concentrator into a grounded electrical outlet. Never use an extension cord or power board.
  • As the oxygen concentrator becomes hot when in use, locate it in a well-ventilated area, away from curtains or drapes.
  • Have your oxygen concentrator inspected and serviced regularly according to the supplier’s instructions.
  • Store oxygen cylinders in an upright secure position in a well-ventilated area away from any open flame, heat source or direct sunlight. Do not cover with cloth or plastic.
  • Handle oxygen equipment with care to avoid damaging cylinders.
  • Secure and transport oxygen cylinders correctly. Check with your state or territory department of transport regarding the transport of oxygen in cars as safety standards may vary from state to state.
  • Use the correct pressure gauge and regulator.
  • When a cylinder is almost empty, close the valve and mark the cylinder as empty. Do not store full and empty cylinders together.
  • If you have been prescribed oxygen 24 hours a day you may need a back-up oxygen cylinder. Discuss with your doctor whether this is the case for you.
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