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Safety Concerns with Supplemental Oxygen?

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Dear COPD Coach,
I have just been placed on supplemental oxygen 24/7. Up until now I have only used it at night. Are there any safety concerns I should be aware of?

-Scared O2 user

Dear Scared,
Using supplemental oxygen does have some risks associated with it, and you are wise to be concerned. Oxygen itself is not flammable; however the presence of oxygen causes fire or even a spark to burn more quickly and fiercely. So some common sense tips might help ease your concerns.

  • Keep at least 8 to 10 feet away from any flame or spark. This includes gas stoves, fireplaces and yes, even candles. Electric razors (though not widely advertised) can cause sparks, and you should not use your oxygen when shaving with an electric razor.
  • Do not allow smoking anywhere near you. Many oxygen users place a sign on their door stating that supplemental oxygen is being used in the house and that no smoking is allowed. Of course, with lung problems you should never allow any smoking around you or in your home!
  • When cooking, do not wear loose fitting clothes and stay as far away from the heated surface as possible.
  • Avoid using aerosol products as they can ignite in the presence of a spark or fire.
  • Use special care to not allow flammable liquids to get on your clothing or body. Unless thoroughly washed, these could become a hazard.
  • Do not place your oxygen concentrator in an unventilated area, such as a closet. The process of making oxygen results in heat. Also, since the concentrator is using the air the room to purify oxygen, it can quickly deplete the oxygen in a small space.
  • Secure all cylinders in such a way that they cannot fall. A falling oxygen cylinder can cause damage to the valve, releasing the pressure in the canister which may cause it to become a dangerous projectile.
  • You should call your electric company to inform them that you are on oxygen. The purpose of this is two-fold. First, some electric companies have a program that allows a reduction of your rates to help lower the cost of running the air concentrator. Secondly, they will generally put you first in line while restoring power after an outage.
  • Oxygen hoses can become a tripping hazard. Try to place your concentrator in a position where it affords you the most mobility, but in such a way where the hose will not cause you or others to trip. Using a colored hose (such as green or red) makes it easier to see and less likely that someone will trip over it.
  • Keep your hoses clean and replace on a regular basis or when they begin to start getting hard. You should also make sure that the filters in your concentrator are replaced at regular intervals. Never allow your concentrator to become exposed to smoke or fumes of any sort. Regularly wipe down the concentrator with a soft damp rag. If you use water to humidify your oxygen, the canister and tubing should be cleaned daily so that mold does not form.

Supplemental oxygen, when used correctly can not only be safe, but life sustaining. Studies indicate that people with COPD who use supplemental oxygen actually experience greater life expectancy than those who do not utilize it.

Best regards,

The COPD Coach

Ask the Expert is aimed at providing information for individuals with COPD to take to your doctor, and is not in any way intended to be medical advice. If you would like to submit a question to the Coaches Corner email us at coachescorner@copdfoundation.org. We would love to hear your questions and comments. You can address your emails to any of the following: COPD Coach, Caregiver Coach, COPD Doctor or COPD RT.

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