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Supplemental Oxygen

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) can damage the way that our lungs work to the extent that extra oxygen is needed in order to do daily tasks.

When the lung alone is unable to provide adequate oxygen, supplemental oxygen benefits the body by:

  • Improving sleep and mood
  • Increasing mental alertness and physical strength
  • Maintaining normal body function
  • Preventing heart failure in people with severe lung disease

Providing Oxygen Therapy at Home

  • Oxygen can be delivered to your home as compressed oxygen gas or as liquid oxygen. Compressed oxygen gas is stored in steel and aluminum tanks or cylinders. Larger tanks are stationary and used at home. Smaller tanks are more portable for use when you leave the house. Liquid oxygen is made by cooling oxygen gas and converting it to a liquid. Since liquids can be stored in a smaller volume, liquid oxygen is more convenient than compressed oxygen gas for active people. A disadvantage of liquid oxygen is the time of usage as it is more prone to evaporate than compressed oxygen gas.
  • Oxygen concentrators also are available for home use. An oxygen concentrator is an electrical device about the size of an end table. It concentrates oxygen in the air by removing nitrogen. This method is less expensive and easier to maintain as it requires no refilling of tanks. However, oxygen concentrators may give off heat and be noisy. Usage may also increase your electricity bill. You will still need a back-up source of oxygen in case of a power failure.
  • There are several reliable portable oxygen concentrators that allow you to leave your home to work, enjoy recreational activities and travel.

You may need oxygen therapy for all or just part of the day. A doctor's prescription is required for supplemental oxygen.

Safety Tips

There are important safety factors to keep in mind when using oxygen. Oxygen is a safe gas and is non-flammable, however it supports combustion. Materials burn more readily in an oxygen-enriched environment. Follow these tips for safe oxygen use:

  • Post "No Smoking" and "No Open Flames" signs in and outside your home to remind people not to smoke
  • Avoid open flames in the presence of oxygen such as matches, cigarette lighters, candles and burning tobacco. Insist that people who wish to smoke step outside your home.
  • Use caution around other sources of heat, such as electric or gas heaters and/or stoves—at least 5 feet is a recommended distance between oxygen and other heat sources.
  • Avoid using lotions or creams containing petroleum, which are more likely to catch fire in the presence of oxygen. Use water-based products instead.
  • Store cylinders safely in an upright position, secured in an approved cart or storage device.
  • Remember that oxygen supply valves should be turned off when not in use.
  • Always follow the instructions of your oxygen supply company regarding safe usage.

Other breathing treatments or assisted breathing devices are being used more frequently for people with COPD. These treatments are known as CPAP, BiPAP or nasal positive pressure ventilation. Ask your doctor if these devices are right for you. For more information call the Lung HelpLine at 1-800-LUNGUSA (1-800-586-4872)


    Approved by Scientific and Medical Editorial Review Panel. Last reviewed November 15, 2016.

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