What to Do and What Not to Do – Taking Supplemental Oxygen at Home

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The oxygen we breathe is our very life line. Without it, we are unlikely to live for more than a few minutes. At times, when our respiratory system is affected by diseases and the oxygen available to the body is diminished, our internal organs such as the brain, kidney, heart, lungs, and liver sustain irreversible damage.  Inadequate oxygen supply to the body may be due to Hypoxemia, in which the oxygen reserves available in the blood are low, or due to Hypoxia, which is oxygen starvation at the tissue level. Several diseases could cause such oxygen starvation, such as:

  • Respiratory diseases such as COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), asthma, bronchitis, and pneumonia
  • Lung damage (due to trauma, cancer, cystic fibrosis etc.)
  • Cardiac diseases
  • Anaemia and blood disorders
  • Drug poisoning
  • Asphyxiation or Carbon Monoxide poisoning
  • Sepsis or metabolic infections (which increase demand for oxygen)

Oxygen Therapy is often recommended to patients who suffer from oxygen deprivation for any of the above reasons. Oxygen can be administered in low or high doses for short or prolonged durations as recommended by the doctor; commonly administered through:

  • Oxygen gas
  • Liquid oxygen
  • Hyperbaric oxygen therapy
  • Oxygen concentrators

Administering oxygen both at home or in a medical facility requires adequate supervision and care. There are several precautions to be taken.

  1. While by itself oxygen is non-combustible and rather safe for anyone around the patient, it does aid combustion of other inflammable materials. This means that providing supplemental oxygen at home poses several safety hazards and requires extreme caution. This also means that smoking anywhere in the house with an oxygen supplement is a big no-no. Almost 90% of the fire and burns related deaths in households with supplemental oxygen are attributed to smoking. COPD patients often struggle with smoking cessation and tend to fall back into the habit. Remember never to smoke while being administered oxygen – not only will this undermine the therapy but will also pose a fire hazard.
  2. While smoking is an entirely avoidable risk, cooking and use of electric razors may also be risk factors. It is best to move the person using the oxygen to the room furthest from the kitchen and to avoid using electric razors and other devices that give off sparks. It is also best to avoid using inflammable petroleum jelly and similar products if you are using oxygen. It is also advisable to install more fire alarms and keep cans of fire extinguisher sprays handy.

Safety hazards apart, oxygen therapy must be administered to a person only under the supervision of a doctor.

  1. Oxygen therapy must be administered in the way and for the duration recommended by the doctor. Excess oxygen in the tissues runs the risk of developing hyperoxia. The central nervous system of the human body also becomes exposed to toxic elements when placed in high oxygen pressure. You may want to buy a pulse oximeter online to monitor the oxygen levels in your blood.
  2. Oxygen therapy is not an alternative to medication. In case of drug poisoning or respiratory ailments, it is important to follow the medication and treatment recommended for a complete cure.
  3. Even when the person receiving supplemental oxygen starts to feel better, the therapy should not be withdrawn abruptly. This could cause a fall in alveolar oxygen tension. The doctor should be consulted before the dose/level of oxygen is calibrated or reduced.
  4. Patients undergoing oxygen therapy must be closely monitored. They tend to have dry skin and dry nose which could turn bloody. Aqueous creams suggested by the doctor can help in these conditions. Other common side effects include headaches and fatigue.
  5. The skin behind the ears could turn sore due to the use of oxygen tubes. Patients are also at risk of tripping over these tubes. This must be a point of caution.
  6. Patients receiving transtracheal oxygen therapy must be closely monitored for infection. The windpipe could be injured, or mucus could build up restricting the flow of oxygen. Adequate precautions must be taken in these cases. Like sutures products in India used for delivery of oxygen are available online. Opt only high-quality products.
  7. It is very important that patients receiving supplemental oxygen keep off alcohol and narcotic drugs. These can slow the breathing rate and hamper delivery of oxygen. It is also important to make the doctor aware of any prescription drugs that the patient may be taking which have the same effect.

Patients receiving supplemental oxygen can lead a relatively normal life if adequate precautions are taken.

Summary – Oxygen therapy can be a life saver for patients suffering from COPD, respiratory ailments, and other cases of oxygen deprivation. Patients receiving supplemental oxygen, however, must exercise precaution. Here are some Dos and Don’ts to follow.