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7 Oxygen Safety Tips

Applying Oxygen Safety Tips When Using Supplemental Oxygen

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Updated February 22, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Oxygen safety tips are essential to learn if you have COPD and must use supplemental oxygen. Can you smoke safely around oxygen? Are there certain creams and lotions you should avoid when using oxygen? Check out the following tips for answers to these questions and more:

1. Don't Smoke Anywhere Near Oxygen

Contrary to popular belief, oxygen, in and of itself, is a safe, nonflammable gas. It does, however, support combustion, meaning that materials burn more readily in its presence, including cigarettes. Although the majority of burn injuries and deaths are not related to smoking and home oxygen, they do occur more often than we'd like to think. Take a look at some statistics:

  • A review conducted by the Fire Incident Data Organization (FIDO) found that 7% of all victims who died in fires caused by smoking were using medical oxygen.
  • The National Ethics Committee reported that when a fire occurs and home oxygen is involved, it is usually caused by smoking.
  • A study of burn injuries that required emergency room treatment found that 24 out of 27 cases were related to fires that started when the patient was lighting up a cigarette.
  • The CDC reports that 89% of deaths related to fire and home oxygen use are caused by smoking.

Nevertheless, many smokers who use supplemental oxygen at home aren't ready to quit. If you fall into this category, remember: smoking while actively using oxygen is the most dangerous thing you can do. Absolutely NEVER SMOKE, or allow anyone else to smoke in the home or in the car while oxygen is in use. If you must smoke, discuss removing your oxygen and smoking completely away from your oxygen source — preferably outside — with your doctor.

2. Keep Oxygen Canisters Away From Open Flames

Oxygen canisters must be kept at least 5 to 10 feet away from an open flame, including gas stoves, lit fireplaces, wood burning stoves and candles. Some people go so far as to keep their canisters in a completely different room by utilizing extremely long oxygen tubing. You can purchase relatively inexpensive, extended oxygen tubing online, or at a medical supply company. You can also check with your own oxygen supply company to see what tubing options are available to you that may also be covered by your insurance.

3. Avoid Using an Electric Razor

Although the American Lung Association makes no mention of this, some oxygen supply companies recommend that patients using supplemental oxygen not use it while shaving with an electric razor. Electric razors are a possible source of sparks, and as innocuous as a tiny little spark may seem, it could lead to a full-blown fire once in contact with a combustible gas like oxygen. If you use home oxygen, it's best to shave the old fashioned way: with shaving cream and a good ol' hand razor.

4. Avoid Using Petroleum-Based Lotions or Creams

Petroleum is a highly flammable mixture of hydrocarbons. According to the American Lung Association, "the combustion of flammable products containing petroleum [like Vaseline] can also be supported by the presence of oxygen." When oxygen is being used, it's best to use water-based products such as Aloe Vera, St. Ives, Neutrogena or Aveeno.

5. Store Oxygen Cylinders Safely

Because oxygen supports combustion, it's important to store it safely and securely. Don't store oxygen cylinders near any type of heat source, and be sure your canisters are stored upright and secure utilizing an approved oxygen storage cart or other device designed for storing oxygen.

6. Turn Oxygen Off When Not In Use

Turning your oxygen off when you're not using it is one of the safest and smartest things you can do. Not only will it save you money, but it will support home safety and reduce your risk of in-home fires.

7. Follow Instructions From Your Oxygen Supplier

Before initiating oxygen therapy in your home, it's important for you to review, and always follow, the instructions provided to you by your in-home oxygen supply company. Along with your oxygen delivery, they should include company-specific instructions for safe use and storage of your oxygen cylinders. The instructions should also provide you with a phone number to call if you have any questions. Keep the company phone number posted in a visible location, for easy access.

Compare prices of portable oxygen concentrators.

Sources:

Ahrens M. Fires And Burns Involving Home Medical Oxygen. National Fire Protection Association. 2008.

American Lung Association. Supplemental Oxygen. Updated 2013.

Center for Disease Control. Fatal Fires Associated with Smoking During Long-Term Oxygen Therapy - Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Oklahoma, 2000—2007. MMWR 57(31), 852-854.

Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Fire Administration. Behavioral Mitigation of Smoking Fires. 2006.

Robb B., et. al. Home Oxygen Therapy: Adjunct or Risk Factor? Journal of Burn Care & Rehabilitation. 2003. 24, 403-406.

Veterans Health Administration, National Center for Ethics in Health Care. Ethical Considerations That Arise When a Home Care Patient on Long Term Oxygen Therapy Continues to Smoke.

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