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Oxygen Therapy in the Hospital

A Guide for You and Your Family

Oxygen is a drug and is only given if you need it. Just like any other medicine, oxygen therapy is given at different doses to treat you safely. When you receive oxygen therapy you can’t become addicted or dependent on it.

Why do I need oxygen therapy?

If your lungs aren’t able to provide enough oxygen on their own, your healthcare provider may prescribe oxygen therapy.

Oxygen therapy helps your organs and tissues get the oxygen they need to work properly and be healthy. It also helps you recover from illness.

If you feel short of breath and your oxygen levels are normal, oxygen therapy doesn’t help. Your healthcare team will work with you to find other ways to treat your shortness of breath.

How does my healthcare team monitor oxygen therapy?

There are 2 ways to monitor the amount of oxygen you need.

  • A small, clip-like device called an oximeter placed on your finger is the most common. The reading shows as oxygen saturation or SpO2.
  • Sometimes another test called an Arterial Blood Gas (ABG) is needed. An ABG is a blood sample taken from your artery, usually in your wrist, and measures how much oxygen is in your blood.

Is there a typical amount of oxygen therapy?

Your healthcare team will monitor how much oxygen you need while you’re on oxygen therapy. They may adjust the dose or rate to make sure you get the amount that’s right for you.

The amount of oxygen is different for each person and is based on how well your lungs are working.

Usual target SpO2 ranges

The best target for most adults is 92 to 96% SpO2.

The best target for most children is 90 to 95% SpO2.

Your best target range may differ if you have certain types of lung disease. For example, if you have COPD, your best target range may be 88 to 92% SpO2.

It’s very important to stay at the amount of oxygen prescribed for you. Studies show that too much oxygen therapy can harm you.

How can I be safe when I use oxygen?

Be sure to follow all these instructions when you’re moving around or when you leave the hospital while on oxygen.

Personal safety

  • Never smoke or vape while you use oxygen. It’s important that others don’t smoke or vape near you. People have had serious burns to their face and body when they smoked or vaped while on oxygen therapy.
  • Don’t use aerosols, oils, grease, or petroleum-based products while on oxygen. These can put you at higher risk of burns and cause damage to oxygen tubing and masks.
  • When you leave your room, make sure you know how much oxygen therapy you need. Your healthcare team will tell you what your dose is and how long your portable oxygen tank will last.

Oxygen equipment safety

  • Be careful with portable oxygen tanks - don’t drop, drag, or roll them.
  • Don’t adjust the knobs or valves on the wall above your hospital bed or on your portable oxygen tank. This can:
    • change your dose and you may get too much or too little oxygen therapy
    • increase the risk of damage to the portable oxygen tank (some types of damage can be dangerous)
  • When you take portable oxygen tanks in a vehicle, secure them so they don’t move around. For example, strap the tanks in with a seatbelt – they shouldn’t roll or bump into anything else.
  • Don’t store oxygen tanks in the trunk, and always keep tanks away from hot cars and direct sunlight.
  • Keep portable oxygen tanks at least 3 metres away from open flames and sparks.
  • Never leave portable oxygen tanks near any type of heat source.

What happens if my portable oxygen tank runs low?

  • When the gauge on your tank shows less than 500 psi or the needle is in the red shaded area, the tank is getting low on oxygen. Return to your care unit and ask your healthcare team member for another tank.
  • You’ll know that your portable oxygen tank is empty when the gauge is at 0 (zero) or the needle will be all the way to the left in the red shaded area. Get a new tank right away.

Before you leave your care unit with portable oxygen, check with your healthcare team about how long you can stay away.

What can I do about my dry nose and nosebleeds?

The skin inside your nose can get dry and sore or it can bleed when you use oxygen therapy at a high dose or for a long period of time.

  • If this happens to you while in hospital, ask your healthcare team for a water-based nasal gel or cream.
  • It’s important to remember not to use petroleum-based or oil-based products on your face or in your nose while on oxygen therapy.

Current as of: February 21, 2020

Author: Respiratory Health Strategic Clinical Network, Alberta Health Services