If you have any questions, this is a good place to start. If you still have unanswered questions, please contact us.

Respiratory Therapy FAQs

Q: What is oxygen?

A: Oxygen is a colorless, tasteless, odorless gas that is necessary for life. Each day we breathe about 20,000 times, and the air we breathe is made up of approximately 21% oxygen and several other gases. Oxygen is the most important for keeping us alive because our bodies need it for energy and growth. Without oxygen, the body’s cells would die.   

Q: How is oxygen made and stored for home use?

A: There are several different methods, but the most common are:

  1. Stationary Oxygen Concentrator:  This unit pull in ambient air and filters out the nitrogen, leaving pure oxygen.  They require very little maintenance and can manufacture continuous oxygen without ever needing refills.
  2. Portable Oxygen Cylinder: The oxygen gas is compressed and stored in aluminum or steel pressurized tanks.  This system is typically used in conjunction with a stationary oxygen concentrator and requires frequent delivery refills based on your activity.
  3. Portable Oxygen Concentrator:  Like the stationary oxygen concentrator, this unit filters ambient air to create pure oxygen; however, unlike portable oxygen cylinders, does not require refills.

Patients requiring continuous oxygen will normally be set up with a stationary concentrator for use in the home and a portable system, such as the portable concentrator for when they need to be mobile.

Q: What is the best home oxygen system for me?

A: Preferred Homecare | LifeCare Solutions and your doctor can help you decide which home oxygen system is best for you.

Q: What is the difference between a nasal cannula and a face mask?

A: A nasal cannula is a small, adjustable plastic tube placed under the nose and is the most commonly used intake method. This tubing is attached to the oxygen tank or oxygen concentrator and delivers oxygen flow to your nose.  A face mask can be used if you find cannulas uncomfortable.  Face mask are better suited to a stationary situation such as when you are sitting or in bed.

Q: How do I order home oxygen once my doctor prescribes it?

A: Your doctor, respiratory therapist, social worker or nurse may recommend an oxygen supplier to you.  In most cases, your healthcare team will send your oxygen prescription directly to Preferred Homecare | LifeCare Solutions. 

Q: How much does home oxygen cost? Will Medicare and/or my insurance pay for it?

A: The cost can vary greatly depending on your insurance and prescription.  We will help you select the most economical system to meet your needs and activities and estimate your approximate monthly cost.  In most cases Medicare will pay 80% of approved expenses and many private insurance plans also pay for oxygen.  Our trained Insurance Specialist will work with your insurance carrier to verify your benefits and maximize your coverage.

Q: Why do I need supplemental oxygen?

A: Normally, oxygen passes readily from the lungs into the bloodstream and is pumped by the heart to all parts of the body. When lung disease occurs, oxygen may not be able to pass as readily into the bloodstream. When the heart is diseased, it may not be able to pump as much oxygen-carrying blood.

Either of these situations can result in diminished amount of oxygen reaching the organs and tissues of the body, preventing them from functioning properly. This can cause many undesirable effects such as decreased ability to exercise, difficulty breathing, fatigue, confusion and loss of memory, etc. Breathing supplemental oxygen increases the amount of oxygen that passes into the bloodstream and is carried to the organs and tissues.

Q: How can I tell if I need supplemental oxygen?

A: Believe it or not, in many cases you really cannot tell when you need or don’t need supplemental oxygen. However; you might suspect you need supplemental oxygen if you have one or more of the following symptoms: decreased ability to exercise, difficulty breathing, fatigue easily, experience periods of disorientation or memory loss.   Conversely, there are patients with significant lung diseases that may not feel any of the above symptoms, but may require supplemental oxygen.  

The only true way to determine if you require supplemental oxygen is to see your Doctor.  Your Doctor will measure the amount of oxygen in your blood and evaluate your medical condition to determine the need for supplemental oxygen.

Q: Can I become addicted to oxygen?

A: We need oxygen to live, so in essence, we are already addicted to oxygen.  However; using supplemental oxygen is not “addictive”.  And, should your condition improve, you may no longer require supplemental oxygen.

Q: I am on supplemental oxygen and I am still short of breath, why? 

A: There are many reasons for shortness of breath or the sensation of difficult breathing.  Oxygen can help, but in some cases breathing can still seem hard.  Never adjust your liter flow without consulting with your Doctor first.  And keep in mind, by itself, shortness of breath is not life-threatening.

Q: How often do I need to use my oxygen?

A: Your doctor will determine how many hours per day you should use the oxygen. If you are prescribed oxygen just at night an oxygen concentrator system is the preferred method of delivery.  If you’re your doctor also wants you to use oxygen during the day, an oxygen concentrator and a portable system is usually provided.  It is very important to always follow your doctor’s directions carefully.

Q: Can I use electrical appliances and cook while using oxygen?

A: Oxygen is flammable, but as long as a few simple precautions are taken, you can continue normal activities.  For example, don’t cook on an open flame, don’t smoke, and watch that your oxygen tubing does not come in contact with hot items that could cause the plastic to melt.  Also, appliances that get hot or spark during operation should be kept at least five feet away from your oxygen system. 

Q: Can I smoke while on oxygen?

A: No, you should never smoke while on oxygen. 

Q: What if someone around me is smoking, can I use my oxygen?

A: Try to avoid this situation; however, if that is not possible, ensure they are at least twenty-five (25) feet away from you and your oxygen equipment.

Q: Can I use oxygen outside of my home?

A: Yes, if your doctor has prescribed oxygen for more than nighttime use, you will be provided with a portable oxygen system that you can take with you. 

Q: Can I drive a car or travel while using oxygen?

A: Yes.   When driving, secure the oxygen unit so it will not tip or fall and leave a window slightly open for ventilation. You can also travel on public transportation while using oxygen.

Q: How heavy are the portable systems?

A: Portable tanks vary in weight from 4 to 15 pounds. These tanks may be carried in a shoulder bag or placed on an available pull cart.  You may also be provided with a portable oxygen concentrator dependent on your oxygen needs.  Portable oxygen concentrators weigh approximately 8 to 10 pounds.

Q: How long will a portable oxygen tank last (E Cylinder)?

A: Oxygen flow is measured in liters per minute (LPM).  The figures below are based on continuous flow rates and are approximate.  These should only be used as a general guide as individual usage varies.

e-cylinder-oxygen-supply-time-charts

Q: What is an oxygen conserving device (OCD)?

A: An OCD is a device that controls the flow of oxygen from your tank or concentrator based on the rate in which you inhale.

Q: How does the oxygen conserving device work?

A: An OCD releases oxygen only when you inhale, which dramatically increases the amount of time you can use the oxygen supply. Many people also find that an oxygen conserving device is more comfortable than a continuous flow.  The short “pulse” of oxygen delivered during inhalation is almost undetectable, and the humidity in the room air helps maintain a normal level of moisture in your nasal cavity. This greatly reduces the discomfort of dehydration sometimes associated with a continuous flow oxygen system.

Q: I am using an oxygen conserving device and the pulse seems so short. Am I really getting enough oxygen?

A: Yes. The OCD delivers a precise burst of oxygen at a relatively high flow rate.  This assures that the oxygen delivered flows deep in to your lungs for maximum therapeutic benefit.

Q: How long will my oxygen tank last when I am using my oxygen conserving device? 

A: Because an oxygen conserving device responds to your specific breathing pattern, the use time will vary for each person.  The figures below should only be used as a general guide as individual usage varies. 

oxygen-tank-usage-chart

Q: Can I refill oxygen tanks myself at home?

A: Yes, there are certain types of oxygen systems that allow the refill of oxygen tanks or cylinders from the comfort of your home.  You can contact Preferred Homecare | LifeCare Solution to ask if a Homefill system is right for you.

Q: What do I do if I run out of oxygen?

A: Call us to replace or refill your supplemental oxygen supply.  When you are not using your supplemental oxygen you may feel some of the same discomfort you experienced before going on oxygen therapy, but this discomfort should not be life-threatening.  If you are away from home and your portable tank runs out, return home for your refill and continue using your available oxygen.  As much as possible, you will want to monitor your supply of tanks and call us in advance of running short.

Q: How do I care for my tubing?

A: Minimal care is required of your oxygen tubing and nasal cannula or oxygen mask. We recommend that once or twice a day that you remove the cannula or mask and wipe it clean with a damp cloth.  Also, you should replace your nasal cannula or mask every two to four weeks and replace your tubing every 3 months. Do not use alcohol or oil-based products on or near your cannula or mask.

Q: Is using oxygen dangerous?

A: In an oxygen-rich environment things burn more easily and rapidly.  Since your supplemental oxygen system creates an oxygen-rich environment do not use it near an open flame, burning cigarette or electrical equipment that sparks during operation.

In addition to the above, do not use oil, grease, Vaseline® or any other petroleum based products on your oxygen equipment.   Our Customer Service Technicians will also thoroughly explain all safety precautions related to your home oxygen therapy.

Q: I am experiencing some physical/medical issues while on oxygen, what should I do? 

A: If you experience any of the following problems, call your doctor:

  • Increased shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Fever or chills
  • Increased wheezing
  • Increased mucus production
  • Mucus becomes thicker
  • Change in mucus color
  • Headaches
  • Loss of appetite
  • Increased cough
  • Swelling in your ankles or around your eyes
  • eight gain overnight
  • Feeling dizzy or sleepy
  • Any change in physical sensation after taking a new medication

If you experience severe physical problems, call 911.


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