Life with oxygen therapy
If you are receiving home oxygen therapy, it's important not to smoke, to inform your insurers and to be prepared when going on holiday. On this page we give advice on living well with oxygen therapy.
- How do I use oxygen safely?
- Oxygen and insurance
- Using oxygen while exercising
- Going on holiday with oxygen
- What happens to my oxygen if I need emergency care?
While you are using oxygen, it’s not just going into your lungs. It’s spreading into the air around you, your hair and clothes, your soft furnishings, and bedclothes. So, the whole room around you becomes oxygen enriched, and this can increase the chance of a fire. To avoid fire risks always use your oxygen equipment according to the manufacturer’s safety instructions. For example, you should not use oxygen while cooking with gas. Some hand creams and alcohol gels are not suitable for use alongside oxygen since they may be flammable.
No one should smoke near oxygen or use oxygen near a naked flame of any sort. E-cigarettes can also be a fire risk.
The local fire service may offer specific advice for your home. Make sure you have a working smoke detector and check the battery regularly, at least every month. Cleaning the filters of your oxygen delivery method is important and your responsibility – remember to do this regularly, normally once a week.
Oxygen tubing should have two fire breaks: one at the end of the tubing near your face and the other near the oxygen concentrator. These will stop oxygen in the event of a fire. Never remove these fire breaks.
If you have difficulty with mobility or reduced sight, take care with oxygen tubing – if you are concerned about trips and falls, the community occupational therapist may be able to assess your home and offer ways to help. Your GP or local health care team can arrange this assessment.
Remember oxygen is a medicine – too much oxygen can be dangerous. It is dangerous for you to alter the oxygen flow rate your equipment provides or change the type of mask you use, unless instructed to do so by your health care professional. It has been prescribed for you after a very careful assessment.
You should never smoke, including e-cigarettes, when using oxygen. A gas called carbon monoxide in the smoke reduces the amount of oxygen that your blood can 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.
You will be asked about your smoking habits at your oxygen assessment and, if you smoke, offered help and treatment to quit. Current guidelines highlight safety concerns about smoking while using home oxygen therapy, because of a number of very serious (even fatal) incidents. 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 reduced benefit, risk to yourself, public safety, or risk to others.
If you smoke, your respiratory team will give you advice and support on how to quit. You can also visit our stop smoking pages for help to quit smoking.
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.
If you use oxygen, it’s important to tell your insurers. This should not affect insurance premiums, but it will make sure you are fully covered in the event of a claim. It’s a good idea to inform both buildings and contents insurance providers. If you live in a rental property, consider telling your landlord if you think it might affect their insurance.
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.
It’s safe to use oxygen while exercising. In fact, it’s a good idea to try and keep as active as possible! If you’ve been prescribed oxygen and have been told that your blood oxygen levels drop when you exercise, portable oxygen treatment may increase how much exercise you can do.
If you’re regularly active, you should discuss this with your respiratory team while you’re being assessed or reviewed for your oxygen therapy. You should ask them if you need to tailor your flow rate while you exercise.
Top tips for travelling with oxygen
- 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
- Remember your international plug adaptors – keep one in your hand luggage and carry a spare!
Before you book your holiday, discuss your health needs with your respiratory specialist.
Travelling with oxygen in the UK
You can arrange oxygen for travelling within the UK through your oxygen provider. You will need to tell them your holiday details, including the dates and where you will stay.
Give as much notice as you can - if possible - six weeks. This is most important during busy times like school holidays. But two weeks’ notice is often enough at less busy times of year.
Make sure the owner of the accommodation where you plan to stay is happy to have oxygen equipment and cylinders there and get their permission to store it.
Travelling with oxygen abroad
If you need oxygen on your holiday abroad, you’ll need to arrange oxygen at your destination before you travel. UK companies generally don’t allow their equipment to be taken outside the UK. Your respiratory specialist or oxygen supplier can give you details of oxygen providers abroad. You’ll need to organise and pay for this yourself.
Flying with oxygen
If you plan to fly, you may need to have a fitness-to-fly test to confirm your need for in-flight oxygen.
You may not normally need oxygen but may need it while flying due to the higher altitude. You may also need it if you go to an area at a higher altitude than you’re used to. You can test if you need oxygen at higher altitudes during the fitness-to-fly test. Your GP can refer you for this test.
Airlines have their own rules about supplying oxygen and some charge to provide oxygen in-flight. Check with your airline and respiratory team before you book. The respiratory team often need to fill in a medical form for you and will help with deciding how much oxygen you need on the plane. Also check whether the flight is code-sharing. This is when a flight has one airline’s code and flight number but is operated by another one. You will need to check with each airline involved about their own oxygen policy.
The European Lung Foundation maintains a database of airline oxygen policies for passengers.
Top tips before you fly
- 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 through 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.
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 X-ray machines. Ask for a wheelchair to assist you when passing through security.
- 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.
We have more information about going on holiday with a lung condition.
If you are on LTOT (long-term oxygen therapy) and are unwell and need an ambulance, it’s important the ambulance team know you are on oxygen therapy. Your oxygen team should give you an oxygen alert card and oxygen mask and tubing to be used in ambulance transfer. Your respiratory team may create an electronic alert highlighting you have home oxygen.
You should also know your own oxygen target saturation to tell the emergency team, so the flow of oxygen you get in the ambulance is right. If you don’t know this, ask your respiratory team. It’s a good idea to have this written down, in case you are unable to tell them yourself.