Navigate Up

Seniors Center - A-Z Index


Print This Page

Using oxygen at home

Because of your sickness, you may need to use oxygen to help you breathe. You will need to know how to use and store your oxygen .

Alternative names

Oxygen - home use

Kinds of oxygen

Your oxygen will be stored under pressure in tanks or produced by a machine called an oxygen concentrator.

You can get large tanks to keep in your home and small tanks to take with you when you go out.

Liquid oxygen is the best kind to use because:

  • It can be moved easily
  • It takes up less space than oxygen tanks
  • It is the easiest form of oxygen to transfer to smaller tanks to take with you when you go out

Be aware that liquid oxygen will slowly run out, even when you are not using it.

An oxygen concentrator:

  • Makes sure your oxygen supply does not run out.
  • Never has to be refilled.
  • Needs electricity to work. You must have a back-up tank of oxygen gas in case your power goes out.

Portable, battery-operated concentrators are also available.

Ways to breathe the oxygen

You will need other equipment to use your oxygen. One item is called a nasal cannula. This plastic tubing wraps over your ears, like eyeglasses, with two prongs that fit into your nostrils.

  • Wash the plastic tubing once or twice a week with soap and water, and rinse it very well.
  • Replace your cannula every 2 to 4 weeks.
  • If you get a cold, change the cannula when your cold is over.

You may need an oxygen mask. The mask fits over the nose and mouth. It is best for when you need higher amounts of oxygen or when your nose gets too irritated from the nasal cannula.

  • Replace your mask every 2 to 4 weeks.
  • If you get a cold, change the mask when your cold is over.

Some people may need a transtracheal catheter. This is a small catheter or tube that is placed into your windpipe through a minor surgery.

If you are using a transtracheal catheter, have your respiratory therapist or doctor teach you how to clean your catheter and humidifier bottle.

Tell others you use oxygen at home

Tell your local fire department, electric company, and telephone company that you use oxygen in your home.

  • They will restore power sooner to your house or neighborhood if the power goes out.
  • Keep their phone numbers in a place where you can find them easily.

Tell your neighbors, friends, and family that you use oxygen. They can help during an emergency.

Using oxygen

Using oxygen may make your lips, mouth, or nose dry.

  • Use a water-based lubricant (such as K-Y jelly) to add moisture to them.
  • Aloe vera is OK to use.
  • Do not use petroleum jelly (Vaseline) or any oil-based products.

Place some gauze under the oxygen tubing behind your ear. This will help keep the skin from getting sore.

Do not stop or change your flow of oxygen. Talk with your doctor, nurse, or respiratory therapist if you think you are not getting the right amount. Take good care of your teeth and gums.

Keep your oxygen far away from open fire or any other heating source.

Travel and oxygen

You need to make sure oxygen will be available for you during your trip. If you plan to fly with oxygen, tell the airline before your trip that you plan to bring oxygen. Many airlines have special rules about traveling with oxygen .

When to call the doctor

If you have any of the following symptoms, check your oxygen equipment first.

  • Make sure the connections between the tubes and your oxygen supply are not leaking.
  • Make sure the oxygen is flowing.

If your oxygen equipment is working well, call your doctor if:

  • You are getting a lot of headaches
  • You feel more nervous than usual
  • Your lips or fingernails are blue
  • You feel drowsy or confused
  • Your breathing is slow, shallow, difficult, or irregular

Call your child's doctor if your child is on oxygen and is:

  • Breathing faster than usual
  • Flaring nostrils when breathing
  • Making a grunting noise
  • Pulling in the chest with each breath
  • Losing their appetite
  • A dusky, gray, or bluish color around the lips, gums, or eyes
  • Irritable
  • Having trouble sleeping
  • Looking short of breath
  • Very limp or weak


American Thoracic Society. Why do I need oxygen therapy? Accessed on May 8, 2014.

National Home Oxygen Patients Association. Understanding oxygen therapy: A patient guide to long-term supplemental oxygen. Accessed on May 8, 2014.

Updated: 4/26/2014

Denis Hadjiliadis, MD, Associate Professor of Medicine, Pulmonary, Allergy, and Critical Care, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

©  UPMC | Affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences
Supplemental content provided by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions. All rights reserved.

For help in finding a doctor or health service that suits your needs, call the UPMC Referral Service at 412-647-UPMC (8762) or 1-800-533-UPMC (8762). Select option 1.

UPMC is an equal opportunity employer. UPMC policy prohibits discrimination or harassment on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, age, sex, genetics, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status, familial status, disability, veteran status, or any other legally protected group status. Further, UPMC will continue to support and promote equal employment opportunity, human dignity, and racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity. This policy applies to admissions, employment, and access to and treatment in UPMC programs and activities. This commitment is made by UPMC in accordance with federal, state, and/or local laws and regulations.

Medical information made available on is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should not rely entirely on this information for your health care needs. Ask your own doctor or health care provider any specific medical questions that you have. Further, is not a tool to be used in the case of an emergency. If an emergency arises, you should seek appropriate emergency medical services.

For UPMC Mercy Patients: As a Catholic hospital, UPMC Mercy abides by the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, as determined by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. As such, UPMC Mercy neither endorses nor provides medical practices and/or procedures that contradict the moral teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.

Pittsburgh, PA, USA