Every cell in our bodies needs oxygen to live. When you breathe in, oxygen goes into your lungs and gets transported in the bloodstream to all the parts of your body. When your cells use up the oxygen, they produce carbon dioxide. This carbon dioxide is carried back to the lungs through the bloodstream and released when you breathe out.
If your parent has a medical problem with their heart or lungs, they may have trouble taking in enough oxygen to fuel their body. They may also have trouble ridding their body of carbon dioxide.
Using oxygen is an effective and convenient way for your parent to manage medical challenges while living at home. Here are some tips to assist your parent with their home oxygen therapy.
What is home oxygen therapy?
Oxygen therapy is a medical treatment where you breathe in extra (supplemental) oxygen to boost the oxygen levels in your blood. It doesn’t cure heart or lung disease, but it can make it possible to live better with these illnesses.
Doctors will likely prescribe home oxygen if your parent has a medical condition that causes them not to have enough oxygen in their bloodstream. Some common medical conditions that might require home oxygen therapy include:
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
Your parent may be on oxygen for a short time while recovering from an illness or as ongoing therapy. Some ways that people use oxygen therapy at home could include:
Continous- your parent uses oxygen for most of the day
Ambulatory- your parent only uses oxygen when they’re active or exercising
Nocturnal- oxygen is used while sleeping (this can be used alone or combined with a machine to help breathing at night, such as a CPAP)
Intermittent- oxygen therapy is only needed in occasion short bursts
Your parent’s doctor will let your parent know how often they should be using their oxygen and for how long.
What equipment is needed for home oxygen therapy?
There are many types of devices available for home oxygen use. Your parent’s oxygen device will depend on their medical needs, lifestyle, oxygen needs, and home environment. Oxygen therapy setups involve a source of oxygen and a delivery method.
Standard oxygen concentrator:
This machine weighs about 50 pounds and has a motor powered by electricity and sometimes batteries. It usually has wheels so that your parent can move around the house. Your parent will need a backup source of oxygen if the power goes out.
Portable oxygen concentrator:
This is a smaller version of the machine mentioned above. It weighs 3-20 pounds, so it’s ideal for running errands or traveling to appointments. Some models can even plug into your car.
Liquid oxygen tanks:
These tanks are larger and can weigh 100 pounds or more. They aren’t mobile, but the benefit is that they hold a lot of oxygen. One tank can last several weeks, depending on how much oxygen your parent uses.
Compressed oxygen tanks:
These types of tanks are becoming less common, but they are still used. They are heavy and can be difficult to move around. Tanks last a few days, depending on usage.
Your parent will also need a way to breathe in the oxygen. The most common options include:
Nasal cannula: This is a soft plastic tube with two small prongs that go in your parent’s nose. The tubes rest over the ears to stay in place. The cannula delivers a low and steady flow of oxygen.
Face mask: This fits snugly over your nose and mouth to deliver oxygen. You can’t eat or drink while wearing it, and it can make it hard to talk. But a face mask can deliver higher amounts of oxygen.
The risks and benefits of oxygen therapy
It can be a little scary when your loved one starts home oxygen therapy. There can be a lot of benefits for your senior parent, though.
Home oxygen therapy lets your senior parent:
Continue activities they love
Using oxygen might require a little adaptation to their routines, but overall it will help your parent to keep life normal for longer.
The only major risk to home oxygen therapy is the risk of fire. The oxygen itself doesn’t combust, but an oxygen-rich environment can worsen any spark or fire.
Your parent’s healthcare provider might be hesitant to prescribe home oxygen therapy if they are still actively smoking due to the danger of fire.
Home oxygen therapy tips
Home oxygen therapy is relatively safe and easy to use. Here are some tips to help your parent make it safer, easier, and more convenient.
Don’t smoke or be near smokers while using home oxygen.
Store oxygen equipment securely and away from flames.
Use caution near flames such as a gas stove, fireplace, or lit candles.
Skip petroleum-based creams or ointments like Vaseline on your face or chest.
Have a pulse oximeter on hand (available from any pharmacy or online) and know your parent’s recommended oxygen levels.
Keep oxygen tanks at least 10 feet away from heaters or radiators.
Tanks or tubing that is too long can become trip hazards for your parent.
Don’t leave oxygen tanks in a hot car.
Help your parent ensure their home is fire safe with an extinguisher and working smoke alarms.
Know the symptoms of low oxygen levels and when to call the doctor: headaches, agitated behavior, drowsiness, confusion, trouble breathing, or bluish fingers or lips.
Oxygen can be drying to the skin. Your parent can keep their lips and nose moist with aloe vera or a water-based moisturizer.
Your parent’s doctor can also order a humidifier if the oxygen therapy is drying out your parent’s nose too much.
If tubing irritates your parent’s ears, ask the supplier for foam cushions to use behind the ears.
Practice good skincare on areas touched by tubing or a facemask to prevent irritation.
If your parent uses a facemask, make sure it fits well. Too tight can cause bruising; too loose won’t be as effective. Ask your parent’s doctor or oxygen supplier for assistance.
Help your parent learn the maintenance requirements for their equipment.
Change concentrator filters regularly.
Clean and change tubing or humidifiers as recommended by the supplier.
Have some extra tubing supplies on hand. It’s easy for tubing to get damaged in daily life, for example, by being pinched in bed rails or run over by a vacuum cleaner.
Know how to check oxygen levels in the tank and when your parent should reorder.
Have a plan for power outages if your parent uses a concentrator.
Tell utility providers that your parent uses oxygen/medical equipment. They will prioritize getting their power restored during outages.
How Parentis Health can help
Parentis Health is here to assist your senior parent in managing home oxygen therapy. We offer services including:
Home health nursing to help manage new equipment and monitor health status