Life with oxygen therapy

If you are receiving oxygen therapy, it's important not to smoke, to inform your insurers and to be prepared when travelling on holiday.

Smoking and oxygen

You should never smoke, including e-cigarettes, when using oxygen. The carbon monoxide in the smoke reduces the amount of oxygen that your blood is able to carry around your body. This makes the oxygen therapy ineffective.

Oxygen also helps combustion, so it is vital that there is no smoking around oxygen. There is a risk of facial burns and house fires if you or someone else smokes in your home when the oxygen supply is turned on.

If you continue to smoke while using oxygen, a risk assessment and a medical review will be undertaken. It might be appropriate to withhold or withdraw oxygen therapy because of public safety or risk to others.

Ask your respiratory team for advice on how to quit, or read our information about stopping smoking.

It is important to understand that you will not get any long-term benefit from oxygen if you continue to smoke or if you do not use the oxygen as prescribed.

Home and car insurance

If you use oxygen, it’s important to tell your insurers. This should not affect insurance premiums, but it will ensure you are fully covered in the event of a claim. It’s a good idea to inform both buildings and contents insurance providers.

You should also inform your car insurance provider but there is no need to notify the DVLA unless you experience giddiness, faint or lose consciousness.

Holidays and travel

Discuss travel plans, especially those that involve flying, with your respiratory specialist or GP before you book your holiday. You may need to have a fitness to fly test to assess your oxygen need at altitude before you can fly.

Airlines have their own rules about the supply of oxygen and might charge to provide oxygen during a flight. Check with your airline before you book.

When travelling:

  • Check the insurance arrangements for your oxygen equipment
  • Keep helpline numbers for your oxygen equipment with you at all times
  • Take a copy of your oxygen prescription or doctor’s letter in case you need to reorder supplies
  • Always carry a spare battery pack for your portable concentrator. Anticipate travel delays
  • Think ahead - plug in and charge your portable concentrator whenever you can
  • If you are travelling by train, check if an electrical connection is available. On Eurostar, only certain carriages have sockets – check before you book

With planning, oxygen can be arranged at holiday destinations in the UK using the NHS system and overseas through individual providers. UK companies generally do not allow their equipment to be taken outside the UK. You can purchase or hire portable concentrators but do make sure you have a spare battery pack or back-up cylinder in case of technical difficulties.

Before you travel abroad:

  • Oxygen provided by your supplier is for use in the UK. Check with your supplier whether you can use outside the UK
  • Remember your international plug adapters. Keep one in your hand luggage and carry a spare

If you are travelling abroad, your respiratory specialist or oxygen supplier will be able to provide you with contact information for companies that provide oxygen therapy outside the UK. However, you will need to organise and pay for this yourself.

“If going away in this country, give your oxygen team enough notice and they can make all the arrangements to deliver your oxygen supplies to where you will be staying.

If going abroad, I found it easier to buy a portable oxygen concentrator to use on the aircraft and whilst away”

- Jan, 62, who has emphysema and uses oxygen over 15 hours through the day and at night

Top tips before you fly:

  • Ask your respiratory team if they recommend you have a fitness to fly test before you travel
  • Check the validity of your fitness to fly test. Some airlines are very specific about time between the test and travel
  • There is no international, standardised, approach at airports and on flights to the management of oxygen.  Check with your airline
  • Airlines usually provide oxygen via a breath-activated system. If this is difficult for you, discuss with the airline
  • Most airlines will allow you to travel with your own portable concentrator but they must be an approved make. Check with the airline
  • Most airlines will allow you to take a small full cylinder on flight.  Check with the airline
  • The international air transport association (IATA) promotes the use of nasal cannula over masks in flight, but this does not preclude you from using a mask. Check with the airline

When you fly:

  • Conserve your energy. Pre-book assistance at the airport to avoid long walks
  • Some airports will insist on putting your oxygen equipment through the X-ray machine. Ask for a wheelchair to assist you when passing through security
  • Most airlines will allow you to take a small full cylinder on a flight. Check with the airline.
  • The international air transport association (IATA) promotes the use of nasal cannulae over masks in flight, but this does not preclude you from using a mask. Check with the airline

Peter, a seasoned long haul traveller, gives his personal top tips:

I use four litres of oxygen via a portable concentrator. One eight-hour and two four-hour batteries gives me cover 24/7.

  • Always have the batteries fully charged when setting out.
  • Take an external charger so you can charge a battery whilst still using the concentrator.
  • Always have the mains charger with you to enable you to plug in while in an airport or café, or any other opportunity.
  • Take the lighter connector for use in cars, taxis, coaches and other vehicles. If you’re travelling long haul, consider hiring another unit as belt-and-braces cover.
  • As airlines have no standard policy, take care about long haul flights with stop overs. Even if you have clearance from the airline through which you booked, as many airlines code-share, make sure you have clearance from any other airline that may be used for your journey
  • Make sure you are seated where there is an electrical connection and take a multi plug for whatever type of plug is used.

We have information about going on holiday with a lung condition online or call our helpline on 03000 030 555.

Further help and support

Home oxygen suppliers

Air Liquide:
0808 143 9991 for London
0808 143 9992 for North West
0808 143 9993 for East Midlands
0808 143 9999 for South West

Baywater Healthcare
Covers Yorkshire and Humberside, West Midlands and Wales.
0800 373 580.

Covers the East and North East of England and Northern Ireland.
0800 136 603.

Dolby Vivisol
South of England - 0500 823 773.
Scotland - 0800 833 531

European Lung Foundation
The European Lung Foundation maintains a database of airline oxygen policies for passengers.

Download our oxygen PDF (432KB) Order your free oxygen therapy booklet >

Last medically reviewed: February 2015. Due for review: February 2018

This information uses the best available medical evidence and was produced with the support of people living with lung conditions. Find out how we produce our information. If you’d like to see our references get in touch.