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Oxygen: Home Therapy

Why does my child need oxygen therapy?

Oxygen therapy can help your child:

  • Breathe better.
  • Sleep better at night.
  • Feel better.
  • Be more alert during the day.
  • Be more active.

Oxygen may be prescribed for conditions such as:

  • Bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD)
  • Congenital heart disease
  • Cystic fibrosis (CF)
  • Tracheostomies

Your healthcare provider will measure the level of oxygen in your child's blood to see how much oxygen is needed. Oxygen flow is measured in liters per minute (LPM). Your child's healthcare provider will write a prescription for oxygen. The prescription will tell you how much oxygen your child needs and how often your child needs to use the oxygen.

How can I get oxygen?

If you need oxygen at home, a technician will help you set up your system. The company that supplies your home oxygen will help you with setup and delivery schedule for bringing replacement supplies to your home.

There are 3 kinds of oxygen systems for the home:

  • Tanks of compressed gas. Oxygen gas is stored under pressure in a tank with a device called a regulator on top. The regulator controls the flow rate. Oxygen gas also comes in small tanks that you can carry with you outside the home.
  • Tanks of liquid oxygen. Oxygen can be stored in tanks as a very cold liquid. The liquid changes to a gas when it is released from the tank. Liquid oxygen is more expensive than compressed gas, but it takes up less space and is easy to transfer to portable tanks.
  • Oxygen concentrator. This is an electric device that gets oxygen from the air and concentrates it.

Your child breathes oxygen from a tank or concentrator in 1 of 3 ways:

  • A nasal cannula is soft, plastic tubing that runs from the nose, over the ears, and down your back to the tank or machine supplying the oxygen. Two thin prongs fit just inside your child’s nostrils.
  • A mask that fits over your child’s nose and mouth.
  • Transtracheal oxygen therapy means that you have a small flexible catheter in your trachea (windpipe). This may be used after an injury or after being on a breathing machine in the hospital. A humidifier is needed when you use oxygen through a tube in the throat.

How do I use oxygen safely?

Oxygen by itself cannot catch fire, but it will make anything around it that catches fire burn much faster. For example, a spark that lands on clothing will normally only smolder and cause a small burn hole, but with oxygen in use the clothing might catch fire.

Keep a fire extinguisher close by, and let your fire department know that you have oxygen in your home. Keep these kinds of items away from the oxygen supply:

  • Aerosol sprays
  • Cleaning fluid, paint thinner, or other solvents
  • Perfumes
  • Petroleum products, such as gasoline or oil

Keep oxygen at least 5 feet away from sources of flames, sparks, or high heat. Examples include:

  • Cigarettes
  • Gas stoves and heaters
  • Candles
  • Lighted fireplaces or wood stoves

Do not smoke in the house or in the car when a child is present. Sparks from cigarettes are impossible to control and could easily start a fire. Never expose your child to secondhand smoke.

It is best if your child is not in the kitchen when you are frying any foods. The combination of oxygen, heat, and splattering of oil or grease can be a fire hazard. If you cannot keep your child out of the kitchen, keep the child at least 4 to 6 feet from the stove.

Large oxygen tanks are heavy and should be secured so that they do not fall over.

If you have a concentrator, it is best to clean the air filter at least once a week. You should have a tank of oxygen as a backup in case of a power failure. If your child uses a concentrator, tell the electric company so you will be given priority for repairs if there is a power failure.

Be careful of tripping over the oxygen tubing. Children who are very active may get tangled in the tubing. Taping the tubing to the back of their shirt may be helpful.

What else do I need to know if my child uses oxygen at home?

  • Wash cannulas or masks once or twice a week. Use liquid soap and rinse thoroughly. Change to a new cannula or mask every 2 to 4 weeks.
  • If your child is using a transtracheal catheter, check with your healthcare provider to learn how to clean the catheter and humidifier bottle.
  • Oxygen therapy dries the inside of the nose and mouth. Use water-based lubricants such as K-Y Jelly in your child’s nose. Do not use an oil-based product, such as petroleum jelly. To avoid pain and sores caused by dryness, make sure your child has good dental and gum care.
  • Ask your oxygen provider for a cushion to put under the tubing. This helps keep your child’s cheeks or the skin behind his ears from getting irritated.
  • Make sure your healthcare provider knows all of the medicines and supplements your child is taking.
  • Don’t change the flow of oxygen without your healthcare provider's approval. Too much oxygen can cause your child to breathe too slowly and get short of breath. Talk with your provider if you think your child’s oxygen level needs to be adjusted.
  • Your child can travel with oxygen, but you will need a special small tank. If you plan to travel by air, call the airline ahead of time to find out what their policies are. Many airlines don’t allow you to get on board with your own oxygen equipment.

Sometimes children need extra oxygen. Periods of activity, illnesses such as colds, or travel to high altitude may cause breathing problems. Ask your child’s healthcare provider:

  • How long your child will need to use oxygen
  • What activities your child should avoid while using oxygen
  • What symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if your child has them
  • When your child should come back for a checkup

Call your healthcare provider or your oxygen supplier if you have any questions about oxygen therapy.

Do not take your child off oxygen therapy unless your health care provider tells you to do so.

Developed by RelayHealth.
Pediatric Advisor 2013.2 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2012-03-05
Last reviewed: 2012-03-05
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
© 2013 RelayHealth and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.
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