Home oxygen therapy is usually recommended when the lungs are unable to supply enough oxygen to the blood. This condition is known as hypoxemia. This therapy increases the amount of oxygen in the blood, protects the heart, reduces shortness of breath, and prevents other cardiovascular problems. The air we breathe in, contains 21% oxygen whereas, the oxygen received at home with the help of the therapy, is close to 100% pure oxygen.
There are mainly three types of systems available to provide oxygen at home: liquid oxygen, compressed oxygen (tanks), and oxygen concentrators. Usually an oxygen mask or a nasal cannula (a two-pronged lightweight tube) is used to inhale oxygen.
- Liquid oxygen is stored in thermally-insulated tanks. These tanks are refilled by liquid oxygen suppliers. At low temperatures, oxygen changes from a gas to a liquid. Hence, before delivering, it is warmed to convert its state from liquid to gas. A liquid oxygen system comprises a large stationary unit and a small, portable canister (weighing from 5 to 13 pounds) which is filled from the stationary unit. Depending upon the size of the tank and the flow rate, we can judge how long it may last. Even if it is not in use, evaporation may empty the canister, so always check the portable canister before use.
- Compressed oxygen cylinders include compressed gaseous oxygen. It is used for first aid and by those undergoing the home oxygen therapy, when mobility is needed. Oxygen is stored as a gas in the cylinder which can be refilled by a gas supplier. A regulator and a flow meter are connected to the cylinder to adjust the oxygen flow. This system is usually prescribed when oxygen is not required all the time, but needed while walking or performing any physical exercise.
- Oxygen concentrators are mainly used in domestic situations and need no refilling. It is an electrically powered device which removes the nitrogen from the air. Many manufacturers have introduced portable oxygen concentrators which have replaced the liquid or gas cylinders, so as to increase the mobility of many affected people. Pulse or demand flow in the concentrator, is similar to an oxygen conserving device, however, in the concentrator, the oxygen is made in between pulses and is stored for the next pulse. Due to this, the flow is highly effective and helps reduce the power consumption and extends battery life.
Advantages and Disadvantages
- It helps the affected people to be mobile and promotes an active lifestyle.
- It delivers oxygen at a high flow rate.
- It requires no electricity and works silently.
- A higher amount of oxygen can be stored in a liquid form, rather than a gaseous form.
- The only disadvantage is that the tank needs to be refilled regularly from once or twice a week to once a month. The user needs to be at home for the scheduled tank fill-ups. Since the contents of the tank evaporate with time, tank refilling becomes necessary.
- While using the system, stay away from any open flame or heat sources like candles, gas stove, etc.
- Don't change the oxygen flow rate on your own as it can lead to severe side-effects. If you feel the supply is insufficient, contact the physician and inform the home care supplier.
- Exposure of the equipment to electrical appliances like electric razors, hair dryers, electric blankets, etc.., should be avoided.
- Keep the system away from aerosol cans or sprays like air fresheners or hair sprays, as they are highly flammable.
- Never use an extension cord with the oxygen system. Keep loose cords and extra tubing separate, so that you don't trip on them while using the system.
- Always store the equipment in a well-ventilated area and never carry liquid oxygen in a backpack. Also, it should not be placed it in an enclosed space.
Oxygen is non-addictive and has no side effects when used as prescribed. This therapy not only helps the affected person live an independent life, but also makes it easier and safer for him/her to complete the daily activities.
Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.