Frequently Asked Questions About Using Oxygen In The Home
There are many health concerns that can lead to physicians prescribing oxygen to be used in the home. Older patients recovering from pneumonia, or those that have been diagnosed with COPD, or cardiopulmonary disease, are just a few of the reasons that doctors will prescribe and arrange for their patients to have oxygen available for their use at home.
Has your doctor told you that you require at-home oxygen treatments? Contact our highly experienced staff at Mobility Specialists today for an in-home consultation regarding our affordable range of home machines and portable oxygen concentrators.
The purpose of having oxygen available for use at home is to make sure that you are getting as much oxygen as you need. It is not just the lungs that are involved, but your blood as well. You must be able to absorb enough oxygen into your bloodstream to keep all of your organs healthy and functioning, including your heart and brain. If tests have shown that your level of oxygen in the blood is too low, then you will be given oxygen for use at home.
What exactly is oxygen, and why is it necessary?
Oxygen is a colorless and odorless gas that is necessary for all life to survive. Whenever we take a breath, we are drawing in air that contains about 21% oxygen, which goes straight into our lungs. That oxygen will pass from the lungs into the bloodstream and into our red blood cells so that all of our organs, tissues, and muscles in our bodies can benefit from it. Our body converts that oxygen into heat and energy which act as fuel for us to live.
How is oxygen created and stored?
The first process for obtaining the pure oxygen used in the home is simple: the air is cooled and compressed until it changes into a liquid form. The liquid air is then warmed until the pure oxygen within it can be separated out. It is then collected, compressed and cooled for storage as liquid oxygen in reservoirs, about the size of thermos bottles.
The second method is to compress the oxygen in gas form and store it in heavy steel tanks. These tanks are quite large, and usually come with a gauge and oxygen cannula mask attached to it.
The third method, and the one most often used in the home as a fixed resource is the oxygen concentrator. Room air is pumped through a filter in the machine that will trap everything within the air except for the oxygen. The oxygen is allowed to pass through the filter, and into the machine for dispensing to the patient through a cannula mask. You will often see signs attached to oxygen concentrators that warn against smoking around them. This is done for two very important reasons: oxygen in its pure form is quite flammable, and if second-hand smoke gets trapped in the filter, the nicotine can damage the filter, allowing it to taint the oxygen that passes through.
How is home oxygen used?
Your main piece of necessary equipment for using oxygen at home is the cannula mask, or nasal cannula. It is a flexible plastic tube that is worn in the same fashion as a pair of glasses, with a loop that fits over your ears, attached to a double-pronged bit of tubing that will be inserted into your nasal passages, just far enough so that oxygen can flow freely into your nose.
The tubing can then be attached directly into an oxygen concentrator through a flow plug, or it can be attached to the flow valve on either a large tank of pure oxygen, or the smaller portable tank. It is important to keep the cannula clean and clear of obstructions, and it must be checked regularly for holes, crimps, or mold building up on it. Liquid oxygen can leave a film of moisture behind inside the tubing, so regular cleaning is important to avoid infections from bacteria forming inside it.
How is it ordered, by the doctor or by me?
Some physicians will have a service that they use on a regular basis, as will respiratory therapists, but if not, they can recommend services that are available in your area that specialize in home oxygen use. An alternative method to finding a service that is right for you is to look in the yellow pages, but when calling these services, it might be a good idea to ask them some or all of the following questions to determine the best fit:
* Do they deliver and install the equipment?
* Do they have a 24/7 service for emergencies and regular deliveries?
* Do they train customers on the use and maintenance of the equipment?
* Is there a trained specialist available for home visits if necessary?
* Will they bill Medicare or my insurance company for me?
* How much does their service cost?
* Is their service 100% payable by insurance or Medicare, or do they require a co-pay?
Depending upon your prescription, long-term use can be quite expensive, and there is a wide variety of equipment available for dispensing oxygen in the home. Your doctor writes a prescription for the oxygen level that you will need, and this is not something that you want to change without your doctor changing your prescription. We will work with you to determine the most economical system for your needs, and we will help you by setting up the most affordable monthly plan. In many cases the home oxygen equipment is totally covered by your insurance.
Why do I even need supplemental oxygen prescribed to me?
In normal situations, oxygen is absorbed readily into the bloodstream from our lungs, and then pumped out inside of the red blood cells by the heart to spread out through the body. If some part of this transfer system is damaged or diseased, you will need supplemental oxygen to ensure that the blood that is passing through your body carries enough within it to keep your organs, tissues and muscles healthy and thriving.
If you are not getting enough oxygen into your blood, your body will react negatively, and you will start to show symptoms of oxygen deprivation. These symptoms can include difficulty breathing, fatigue, confusion, loss of memory, and becoming short of breath after even a little exercise. Oxygen is important to every part of our bodies, especially your heart and brain. If you experience these symptoms even after using oxygen in the home, contact your doctor immediately for help.
Does needing oxygen mean that I have heart or lung problems?
Your doctor should tell you exactly what is going on, and why he is prescribing home oxygen use for you. Not everyone that is prescribed with oxygen has a serious problem with their heart or lungs. It is often ordered for patient’s recovery from seasonal ailments like the flu, especially if it became pneumonia. There are also blood disorders that limit the production of red blood cells, and enriched the blood with oxygen is one way of stimulating the production of red blood cells.
Is there a way to tell if I need supplemental oxygen at home?
Yes, there is. If you experience a decreased ability to do normal exercise, fatigue, breathing difficulties, periods of disorientation or loss of memory, you should alert your doctor immediately. Your doctor can then perform an arterial blood gas test to determine just how much oxygen is reaching your bloodstream. If he determines that the level of oxygen in your blood is too low, he will then prescribe home oxygen treatment for you, especially the proper flow rate, and how long or how often you should be using it.
Is there a way to tell if I am getting enough oxygen, or too much?
The symptoms that showed that you were not getting enough oxygen will disappear over time, as long as you keep up with the treatment. If you stop using your oxygen regularly, or the proper flow is not maintained, those symptoms, like fatigue and shortness of breath will return.
If you are getting too much oxygen, you will know because the first symptom is a headache that will get worse as time goes by. This symptom of too much oxygen is usually followed by moments of confusion or profound sleepiness, which means your brain has become oversaturated with oxygen. If this happens, contact your doctor or respiratory therapist immediately, and then contact your service representative to come out and inspect your oxygen concentrator. There may be something wrong with the flow meter, or adjustments may need to be made.
Is oxygen addictive?
Oxygen itself is not addictive in nature. If there is something seriously wrong with your lungs or heart, you will need to stay with the treatment as long as your doctor says you should do so. If this is a means of correcting a temporary condition, you will only need to use it until that condition gets better. Everyone needs oxygen to live, so you cannot become addicted to the pure form of it.
Will it relieve shortness of breath?
Oxygen can help if you experience shortness of breath. But, keep in mind that there may be other reasons than lack of oxygen that is making you be short of breath. Your doctor will tell you why you need the oxygen, and probably how long you will need to take it. Shortness of breath is not necessarily life-threatening, but should still be looked into.
Does being prescribed oxygen mean that I am dying?
Needing oxygen in the home does not necessarily mean that you are in such straits that you cannot live without it. Oxygen is often prescribed for temporary conditions more often than life-long illness, and any concerns should be expressed to your doctor so that he can answer any questions about the treatment that you may have.
Will I have to use it all the time?
Your doctor is the only one who can determine how often you will need to use it, per day, and for how many days you should be using it. It is always a good idea to follow your doctor’s orders exactly as he wishes, so that you can receive all the benefits from home oxygen treatment that you can.
How can I get around my home if I am on oxygen?
The service assigned to bring equipment to your home will probably set you up with an oxygen concentrator in one or more rooms for use while sleeping or watching television. The machines also come equipped with up to 50 feet of tubing, allowing for a wide range of movement while using them.
They can also provide you with a series of portable canisters and cannula masks so that you can move about freely both inside and outside the home. These have a limited amount within them, usually between 4 to 6 hours in each one, depending on size. More than enough time to go shopping, work outside in the yard.
Is it possible to cook or eat while using oxygen?
You can carry on nearly any normal activity while using oxygen, you just have to apply a little common sense. For example, oxygen can be flammable, so using it around an open flame would not be a wise idea. Gas stove tops and burners are not a place to have oxygen around. The same goes for smoking, no flames near any outlet that oxygen will be passing through. Electrical appliances that do not generate heat, throw sparks or could potentially damage the tubing are also safe to use.
Keep in mind that the tubing is plastic, and can be subject to high temperatures as well. It can be melt, and getting it caught in doorways can also result in pinching, cutting or even breaking it. Just be mindful of what you are around while using it. Eating while using oxygen is perfectly safe and may actually be good for you. The most common time that patients experience a loss of breath is before and after eating a meal, keeping the oxygen flowing while eating will not only help, you may even see an increase in appetite because of it.
What if I want to leave my home?
Leaving your home does not mean you have to leave your oxygen behind. There are various types of portable oxygen tanks available from most suppliers, and they come in different amounts of oxygen stored within them. There is usually a time limit involved with using them, but some of them are easily stored in shoulder bags with room for extra tanks, or you can store one or two extras in the car to take with you. You can even wear the tanks while at the supermarket, on the subway, and even on an airplane, as long as you notify the airline.
Should you be out and about and run low on air, the main thing to remember is to not panic. If the tank you are wearing runs low, simply switch to another tank, if you have one handy. If not, the key is to not use it up quickly, so focus on your breathing and keep it as normal as possible.
By not panicking, you will be able to not suffer any discomfort until you can hook up to another tank. This will enable you to return home, and if this is not an option, contact an oxygen supplier and have a tank taken to you. Nothing bad will happen as long as you remain calm and do not put extra strain on your lungs. Using oxygen should never limit your activities or lifestyle.