Advice for Living on Supplemental Oxygen

Editor's Note: This article was originally written by patient expert Bill Hamilton.

Hello, I am Bill Hamilton, and I have had COPD for over 30 years. I use supplemental oxygen 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. When I first began using supplemental oxygen, I was a touch embarrassed. I was in my 50s and with the exception of what was going on in my lungs I looked fit and healthy from the outside.   Well, I looked as fit as Santa looks.   But I soon found out that breathing trumped being embarrassed, and I embraced my supplement oxygen.

Equipment & Supplies

My oxygen provider gave me a portable concentrator, with the simple instructions that the machine could be placed anywhere in the home. The only additional feature to the concentrator was a humidity bottle (which I do suggest for those living in low humidity areas). For those that aren't familiar, a concentrator generates supplement oxygen, but it's also somewhat noisy and generates heat.   Because of this, it took weeks before my wife and I found a place within our home that was mutually agreeable, and it has sat there for years.

Until you become used to it, the single most trying aspect to having supplemental oxygen in the home is dragging the oxygen tube around with you.   It's under foot, it coils around itself, it gets caught under the legs of furniture, people step on it, and I have been told by some friends that sometimes pets love to chew on it.

But once the issue of equipment placement and chewing pets is resolved, you are required to take part in the day-to-day maintenance of living with the tube.   All providers of oxygen are required to supply the necessary provisions to support the concentrator, including additional lengths of tube, connectors, humidity bottles, and the cannulas themselves, etc.

You as the patient should always have extra lengths of tubing (at least three of each length you use), extra connectors (four or five) and extra cannulas (at least six) at home for your immediate disposal. But to my knowledge they are not required to provide what I consider to be the most essential piece of equipment one needs to manage and maintain their home oxygen.   It is a simple tool called a litermeter 0-8 LMP. It is the size of a ballpoint pen, and costs around $30. This measures the flow of oxygen from the concentrator to the cannula. All oxygen users know the importance of correct flow too little and you become listless and other more serious problems can occur.

Handling Tubing

While most tubing is crush-proof, it can be cut and punctured. Usually these cuts and punctures are quite tiny, but can interrupt the flow of oxygen to you.   The litermeter's function is to measure the flow of oxygen through your tubing to the cannula. It is easy to use and can help you immediately identify a potential problem.   For instance, if you use 2.5 LMP of supplemental oxygen, you can check the tubing quite simply by briefly disconnecting the tube at your cannula, inserting the litermeter into the end of the tubing and reading the flow. If it is less than prescribed then you know you have a problem with a section of tubing between the concentrator and cannula. When checking always start at the point furthermost from the concentrator and work back towards it, checking at each connection point.   I check the flow to my cannula three times a week and it takes about 15 seconds.   If you're unable to determine where the leak is, your oxygen supply company will send someone to assist you.

What to Do When Guests Visit

When home alone my oxygen tubing drags along behind me, like a little puppy, and that's okay. I still try do the best I can not to have it get caught on anything.   But once guests come to my home, I take a different approach.   When welcoming them, I politely advise them of my oxygen use and there is tubing lying on the floor, which could be a tripping hazard. I also do things to aid my guests, such as keeping the tubing gathered in one spot as much as possible, making sure it isn't curled because that can cause tripping loops, and generally taking a place in the room where my oxygen tube presents the least issue.   But I will also crimp the tube to show them if they accidently step on the tube, it causes me no harm.

Folks, I hope you have a pleasant day. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to leave them below.

Take care,