Home oxygen therapy is prescribed for some patients who have low oxygen in their blood and need more oxygen than is available from room air alone. Low blood oxygen may be due to a number of chronic, mainly respiratory, conditions. For example, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).
In Scotland home oxygen can only be prescribed by an authorised prescriber from the hospital. This is usually a respiratory consultant. But it can also be prescribed by a paediatrician, neurologist or cardiologist. GPs cannot prescribe oxygen therapy.
Oxygen will not help your breathlessness if your blood oxygen levels are normal. But if you have a condition that means the level of oxygen in your blood is low, oxygen treatment can make you feel better and live longer.
How oxygen therapy is given
Oxygen therapy can be given in a number of ways including:
- nasal prongs placed in the nose with the tubing secured over the ear (nasal cannula)
- face mask placed over the nose and mouth
- alongside other therapies to help people sleep and breathe
How home oxygen therapy can help
If you have a health condition that causes low levels of oxygen in your blood (hypoxia), you may feel breathless and tired, particularly after walking or coughing. Fluid may also build up around your ankles (oedema) and you may have blue lips (cyanosis).
Breathing air with a higher concentration of oxygen than normal can increase the amount of oxygen in your blood. This makes it easier to carry out activities and may reduce your symptoms.
Oxygen therapy can help people with a range of health conditions including:
People who have oxygen therapy have different requirements. For example, you may only need oxygen treatment for short periods during the day when you're walking about (ambulatory oxygen). Or you may need it for longer periods during the day and night – long term oxygen therapy (LTOT).
Oxygen therapy assessment
If you have a long-term medical condition and your doctor thinks oxygen therapy might be helpful, you'll be asked to visit the hospital for an assessment.
During the assessment it's likely that the amount of oxygen in your blood will be measured by taking a blood sample from your earlobe or wrist. Other tests may be performed including:
- a spirometry – this measures the total amount of air you can breathe out from your lungs and how fast you can blow it out
- pulse oximetry – a sensor is attached to your finger to measure oxygen levels
- a walking test on a treadmill
Oxygen therapy may be recommended if the amount of oxygen in your blood is low. Home oxygen therapy is only given if test results show that it's needed.
If you're prescribed oxygen therapy at home, a healthcare professional at the hospital will decide how much oxygen you’ll need and how long you’ll need it for. They'll also discuss the different ways the oxygen can be provided. This may involve a joint assessment at home with your respiratory nurse and the oxygen supplier Dolby Vivisol, or with other oxygen specialists.
By agreeing to go on oxygen therapy, some information about your oxygen requirements will be shared with other NHS organisations and with the oxygen contractor Dolby Vivisol. They'll send an engineer to your home to install the equipment and explain how to use it. They'll also deliver new supplies of oxygen if you need them and check your equipment every so often.
Once your oxygen requirements have been assessed, the hospital will complete a Scottish Home Oxygen Order Form (SHOOF) and send it to the oxygen contractor. This is like a prescription.
The oxygen equipment will be delivered to your home by a Dolby Vivisol engineer. They'll explain how it works and go over some of the safety aspects of using oxygen.
Going on holiday
If you're going on holiday within the UK, you can request that a secondary supply is placed at your holiday destination. You should email Dolby Vivisol and provide them with the details of your holiday. Tell them where you are going and provide the full postal address, contact name and phone number. It's your responsibility to obtain permission of the property owner to have oxygen installed before you arrive and to have it uplifted after you leave.
You should allow up to 3 weeks notice to allow suitable arrangements to be made.
The home oxygen service provides a holiday oxygen service within the UK. If you're going to travel outside the UK and need oxygen, it's your responsibility to arrange this. You may need to pay for this. Some airlines charge up to £200 per flight for inflight oxygen, so check before making any plans.
Always check with your doctor before going away to make sure you're well enough to travel.
The British Lung Foundation has advice about going on holiday with a lung condition.