Using Oxygen Safely at Home

August 28, 2020, Gilchrist

While each of us breathes oxygen every day without thinking about it, those with lung disease or other serious illnesses may have difficulty getting enough oxygen through normal breathing. If recommended by a doctor, oxygen therapy can help provide the extra oxygen needed to help breathe more easily.

While oxygen therapy can greatly benefit patients, those using it need to take precautions to ensure safety and avoid injuries. Unfortunately, in the U.S., home fires caused by oxygen use claim a life every four days, and burn injuries related to unsafe oxygen use can lead to respiratory failure, severe skin burns, hospitalization and even death.

Safety is one of the most important aspects of home oxygen use, whether the patient is using an oxygen concentrator, oxygen cylinders or a liquid oxygen system. Oxygen is a safe, non-flammable gas, yet it can exacerbate combustion, meaning that things burn more readily and ignite more easily in its presence.

Gilchrist Staff Are Experts in Safe Oxygen Use

Gilchrist, over the past year, has had almost 900 patients receive oxygen therapy without any patient injuries. On any given day, 120 to 140 of our patients breathe easier because of home oxygen therapy.

Patient safety is our top priority. Each nurse, social worker, hospice aide, chaplain and volunteer works together with our patients and families every day to assess patient needs, identify safety risks and develop approaches to caregiving—always keeping in mind what’s most important to patients and caregivers.

To best ensure patient safety, Gilchrist staff routinely assess the patient’s home environment for fire risks such as smoking and exposed heat sources. They also look for safety measures such as the presence of working smoke detectors, a fire extinguisher, and posted no-smoking signs and oxygen-in-use signs at the entry to the home.

Safety Education

The most effective tool to prevent patient injury is education. Gilchrist’s Safe Oxygen Use Contract allows staff to partner with families and is reviewed as soon as oxygen therapy is ordered. This contract explains how home oxygen therapy will improve the patient’s ease of breathing and their ability to function, and it also outlines all the safety risks.

Our goal remains safe, caring support of all our patients and families.

Safety Precautions for Using Home Oxygen

Below are general safety tips for using home oxygen.

  • Do not smoke or vape or let anyone else do so while oxygen is in use
  • Do not cook or be near any open flames (e.g., gas stove, candles, fireplaces)
  • Do not be near any heat source (e.g., space heater, heating pad)
  • Do not use petroleum-based products (e.g., Chapstick, Vicks, Vaseline)
  • Do not use anything that can spark (e.g., electric razors, hair dryers, electric blankets)
  • Have working smoke detectors
  • Have a working fire extinguisher
  • Store oxygen tanks and supplies as instructed, in a well-ventilated area. Oxygen accumulates in poorly ventilated areas like closets or cabinets, creating a potential fire hazard.
  • Post signs on the outside of your home’s entry doors to alert the fire department and others that oxygen is in use.

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