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Home Oxygen Therapy

Why does my child need oxygen therapy?

Oxygen is often needed to keep your child comfortable, decrease the amount of work needed to breathe, and sometimes to prevent problems with their heart. Oxygen may be prescribed for conditions such as:

  • bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD)
  • congenital heart disease
  • cystic fibrosis (CF)
  • tracheostomies.

Your health care 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 health care provider will write a prescription for oxygen. The prescription will spell out how much oxygen your child needs per minute (flow rate).

What should I do before my child comes home?

Let people know that you have a child at home on oxygen therapy, especially:

  • your local fire department
  • the gas, electric, and telephone companies
  • neighbors and relatives (in case you need help with your child or other children in an emergency).

Make sure that you have a working smoke detector.

How can I make our home safe?

Oxygen itself is nonflammable but if something catches fire, oxygen makes it 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 will catch fire.

  • Toys. Do not let your child play with toys that have friction motors or get hot and could catch fire.
  • Heat sources. Keep your child and the oxygen equipment away from space heaters, fireplaces, humidifiers, and other heat sources. If you have a wood stove or fireplace in your home, be sure the fire box is enclosed or a spark screen is in use. Keep the oxygen source and your child 4 to 6 feet away from any heat source. Do not let your child sleep with electric blankets while on oxygen.
  • Smoking. 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.
  • Oils, grease, and petroleum-based products. Do not use any oil, grease, or petroleum-based products on oxygen equipment or near the child. These materials are highly flammable. With supplemental oxygen present, they will burn readily.

    Do not put any petroleum-based lotions or creams (like Vaseline) on your child's face or upper chest. Use non-petroleum based products such as Nasal Moist, Burt's Bees lip balm and moisturizers, Cann-Ease nasal moisturizer, aloe vera based products, or other water-based moisturizers.

  • Cooking. 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.
  • Tubing. 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 be aware of?

Sometimes children need extra oxygen. Periods of activity, illnesses such as colds, or travel to high altitude may cause breathing problems. (Before going to a higher altitude such as the mountains, contact your health care provider for instructions on adjusting the oxygen flow rate.)

Watch for these symptoms:

  • breathing faster than usual
  • flaring nostrils
  • making a grunting noise
  • chest pulling in with each breath
  • loss of appetite
  • duskiness, grayish color, or bluish color around the lips, gums, and eyes
  • irritability
  • trouble sleeping
  • feeling short of breath
  • limpness.

If your child has these symptoms, first make sure that all connections are secure and that oxygen is flowing. If the oxygen seems to be flowing correctly, slowly increase the flow of oxygen and call your doctor.

Call your health care provider or your oxygen supplier if you have any questions about oxygen safety.

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

Developed by McKesson Corporation
Published by McKesson Provider Technologies.
Last modified: 2006-10-26
Last reviewed: 2006-09-05
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.
Copyright 2006 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All Rights Reserved.
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