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Home oxygen therapy

Home oxygen therapy involves breathing in air that contains more oxygen than normal through a mask or tube connected to a device in your home.

Who can benefit from home oxygen therapy?

Home oxygen therapy can be useful for people who do not have enough oxygen in their blood.

It can help with conditions such as:

Home oxygen therapy can help with symptoms such as:

  • breathlessness
  • feeling tired all the time
  • memory problems
  • coughing

Getting assessed for home oxygen therapy

Your doctor will refer you to a specialist clinic if they think your symptoms can be helped by home oxygen therapy.

To check the amount of oxygen in your blood, you may have a blood test and an oxygen sensor may be attached to your finger or earlobe (a pulse oximetry test).

You may also be asked to breathe into a device that checks how well your lungs are working. This test is called spirometry.

Using home oxygen therapy

The main ways of using home oxygen therapy are through:

  • short tubes placed in your nostrils – this is called a nasal cannula
  • a mask over your nose and mouth

Some people may need a tube inserted into an opening made in the front of their neck (a tracheostomy) or a tube placed in their mouth and down their windpipe.

There are 3 types of devices that can be used to give you oxygen:

  • an oxygen concentrator
  • large oxygen cylinders
  • portable cylinders

An engineer will install the equipment and explain how to use it safely.

Oxygen concentrator machine

An oxygen concentrator is recommended if you need to have oxygen for most of the day (including when you're asleep).

The machine is about the size of a home printer and plugs into an electrical socket.

Large oxygen cylinders

Oxygen cylinders will probably be prescribed if you only need oxygen for a short time – for example, if you need to relieve sudden periods of breathlessness.

Portable oxygen cylinders

It may be possible to use a small, portable oxygen cylinder outside your home. This is called portable oxygen or ambulatory oxygen.

Most portable oxygen cylinders weigh around 2kg and are small enough to fit inside a small backpack or shopping trolley. This size cylinder holds just under 2 hours' worth of oxygen.

Portable oxygen cylinders are not suitable for everyone.

Oxygen suppliers in England

There are 4 companies in England that provide home oxygen services for the NHS. Each covers a certain different geographical area. You can contact your supplier if you have a question about your device.

  • Air Liquide:
    • 0808 143 9991 for London
    • 0808 143 9992 for the North West
    • 0808 143 9993 for the East Midlands
    • 0808 143 9999 for the South West
  • Baywater Healthcare: covers Yorkshire and Humberside, West Midlands and Wales (0800 373 580)
  • BOC: covers the East and North East of England, and Northern Ireland (0800 136 603)
  • Dolby Vivisol: covers the South of England (0800 917 9840)

Going on holiday

As long as you're well enough to travel and you plan in advance, you should be able to go on holiday while using oxygen.

Speak to staff at your local clinic as soon as possible if you're thinking about going on holiday, particularly if you want to go abroad.

They can advise you about what you need to do to stay safe while you're away.

You will also need travel insurance.

If you're going on holiday in the UK, talk to your oxygen supplier to see if it's possible for oxygen to be delivered to your destination. Try to give them as much notice as possible.

The British Lung Foundation website has more information and advice about going on holiday with a lung condition.

Using oxygen safely

Do

  • install fire alarms and smoke detectors in your home and make sure they're working

  • tell your local fire brigade that you have oxygen at home

  • keep your device at least 3 metres away from any appliances that use an open flame, such as a gas cooker or gas fire

  • keep your device at least 1.5 metres away from other electrical appliances, such as a television, hair dryer or electrical heater

Don’t

  • do not smoke, or let anyone smoke near you, when using your device – also smoking will make your oxygen therapy far less effective

  • do not use flammable liquids, such as cleaning fluid, paint thinner or aerosols when using your device

  • do not use oil-based emollients, such as Vaseline, when using your device

Page last reviewed: 18 August 2020
Next review due: 18 August 2023