Oxygen is essential for life. People living with a chronic lung disease who have low levels of oxygen in their blood often experience symptoms of fatigue and breathlessness. Oxygen therapy helps increase the amount of oxygen in your blood to assist you exert more energy during day-today tasks.

Oxygen Therapy

Oxygen therapy can benefit many people with lung disease who have low blood oxygen levels. Ihelps return blood oxygen levels to normal, which reduces damage to the body’s vital organs. 

Why is oxygen important?

Oxygen makes up 20% of the air we breathe and is an essential part of life. We take oxygen into our bodies each time we take a breath. The oxygen from the lungs is then dissolved into the blood and delivered to the body tissues and organs as the blood circulates. In healthy people, the lungs keep the amount of oxygen in the bloodstream at a normal level. However, if your lungs are damaged, they may not always deliver enough oxygen to the blood.  The body can tolerate low levels of oxygen for short periods of time, but low levels of oxygen for long periods of time can cause problems with your vital organs. 

When is oxygen necessary?

Many people with lung disease experience shortness of breath and wonder if they need oxygen.  However, it is important to know that oxygen therapy is prescribed for patients who have low levels of oxygen in their blood and is not prescribed specifically to relieve breathlessness. While oxygen therapy may relieve breathlessness, in many cases it does not. 

How do I know if I need oxygen?

Your doctor will decide whether you fit the criteria for oxygen therapy by using an arterial blood gas test (ABG).  This test is carried out by taking a small sample of blood, usually from your wrist while you are resting and measuring the amount of oxygen and carbon dioxide in your blood. 

Your oxygen levels can also be measured with a small device called a pulse oximeter which is placed on your finger and measures your blood oxygen saturation – this is the amount of oxygen your blood is holding at the moment compared to how much it is able to hold. Ideally, your blood should be at least 90% saturated with oxygen [1].

If tests show that your blood oxygen saturation levels are adequate, then breathing in extra oxygen (through oxygen therapy) is not likely to benefit you. 

What are the benefits of using home oxygen? 

If your doctor has prescribed oxygen therapy, it is likely that it will either be a temporary treatment while you recover from an illness, or it has been prescribed for permanent use.  Your doctor will tell you how many hours you should use oxygen each day for maximum benefit. This usually falls into one of three categories: 

  1.  During exercise and/or everyday activities like showering 
  2. While you are sleeping 
  3. Continuous, long term oxygen – for at least 18 hours per day.

 Most people notice some improvement when they start using oxygen at home.  Some of the benefits you may experience:  

 Feeling more refreshed on waking 

  • Feeling less breathless performing activities, such as showering and walking 
  • Being able to think more clearly 
  • Having more energy

 Although you may not notice these improvements, remember that your oxygen therapy is still helping your body by delivering more oxygen to your vital organs. 


What oxygen equipment will I need?

  • 1 Oxygen concentrators

     Home concentrator 

    This machine concentrates oxygen by filtering the nitrogen out of the air and is the most common method of oxygen delivery for people on long-term oxygen.  It has a long tube that allows you to move more freely around the house and requires electricity to operate. 

     Portable concentrator  

    This is a smaller concentrator designed to be taken out of the home. Many are so light they can be carried in a bag or wheeled. They also contain their own power supply. Most deliver oxygen in a pulsed dose, which means you receive oxygen when you breathe in, but not when you breathe out. This makes the machine lighter and also preserves battery life.  Other machines can deliver the oxygen via continuous flow. 

    Portable concentrators are quite expensive and normally require you to fund them yourself It may be possible to purchase one second hand. 

  • 2 Oxygen cylinders

    Large freestanding or stationary cylinders  

    These are sometimes provided as a back-up for people prescribed long-term oxygen therapy, in case there is a problem with their concentrator or a lengthy power blackout.  

    Portable cylinders  

    These smaller cylinders can be used when leaving the home. They can be wheeled, attached to a wheeled walker or wheelchair, or may be carried in a bag or backpack.  Once empty, these cylinders need to be refilled and are best used with oxygen conservers that make them last longer. 

  • 3 Nasal prongs 

    Oxygen is usually delivered to your lungs through soft nasal prongs (sometimes called cannulae) that are worn in the nostrils. The tubing normally stays in place by being placed over the ears and under the chin. These allow you to eat or drink while taking in the oxygen10.  The tubing can sometimes cause discomfort due to the dying of the lining of the nose.  This can be improved by applying a water-based lubricant to the nose several times a day. Alternatively, a mask can be used instead of the prongs. 

Oxygen conserving devices

  • Pulsed dose oxygen conserving device

    A pulsed dose oxygen conserving device is a battery-operated device that is attached to your oxygen cylinder replacing a usual flow regulator. It gives a “pulsed dose” or burst of oxygen when you begin to breathe in and then nothing when you breathe out. This helps to deliver oxygen more efficiently from your cylinders and allows them to last up to five times longer, reducing the cost and inconvenience of more frequent refills.   These devices are not suitable for everyone who uses home oxygen and may not be suitable in all situations, e.g. when sleeping. 

    It is important to talk to your healthcare professional about whether an oxygen conserving device would be suitable for you. 

  • Oxymizer conserving device

    An Oxymizer conserving device is a special type of nasal prong set with a reservoir contained within a facepiece or pendant.  It fills with oxygen between breaths and gives a boost of oxygen when you breathe in. The oxygen flow to this device must be continuous not pulsed. It is important to ask your healthcare professional what flow rate you should use with the Oxymizer.   

    The two types of oxygen conserving devices cannot be used together. 

What should I avoid? 

What should I avoid? 

Oxygen can make things burn quickly, so make sure you keep your oxygen equipment at least three metres from any sources of heat, naked flames, or something that could cause a spark.  

Other things you should not do with your oxygen equipment: 

  •  Smoke or allow others to smoke in your home or near your equipment. This includes e-cigarettes 
  • Put yourself or your equipment near matches, candles, gas appliances or open fires 
  • Transport unsecured cylinders in a vehicle. 

What is safe? 

 It is safe to do most things while using your oxygen equipment, including: 

  •  Using oil heaters, air conditioners and electric blankets 
  • Wearing your oxygen equipment while taking a shower or bath but remember that your concentrator is an electrical appliance and must not get wet. 
  • Wearing your oxygen equipment while you exercise. 

Will I need to pay for my oxygen? 

There are a number of subsidy options that may be available to you. They include 

  •  State government funding: Each state uses different criteria to decide who is eligible to receive an oxygen equipment subsidy. In some states there is a central organisation that manages subsidies and in other states these subsidies are run through local health services or hospital boards.  
  • Federal government funding: The Department of Veterans’ Affairs and the Commonwealth Department of Health also provide funded oxygen equipment under certain conditions for war veterans and people in residential aged care facilities.  
  • Private health insurance: Some insurers provide subsidies for oxygen equipment.  
  • Palliative care: Some states fund oxygen equipment for patients who qualify under palliative care criteria. In most cases, your healthcare team will help you work through your funding options and the equipment you may need. However, if this does not occur, ask for assistance from the doctor who prescribed your oxygen or your local community health service.  

If you do qualify for funding, ask about the equipment you will receive. Most states will provide a subsidised home concentrator to those on long-term oxygen. Some will also provide a back-up oxygen cylinder in case the concentrator fails or there is a lengthy power blackout or another form of emergency. Some states also provide a limited number of portable oxygen cylinders to use when outside the home. 

 Currently, each state and territory has different arrangements for funding oxygen equipment for use in the home. Talk to your health professional about the financial support that may be available.   

 The Australian Government offers a yearly payment to help with energy costs to run medical equipment of medically required heating and cooling. Click here for more information. You may also be eligible for a rebate on your electricity billcontact your provider for further information.   

 Oxygen Concentrators and Life Support Electricity Supply 

Energy companies offer Life Support programs to work with their distributors to help you avoid unexpected interruptions to your power supply. If you have an oxygen concentrator, you may be eligible for a Life Support program which provides members with valuable information on power supply interruptions. This means you will be contacted by your energy provider directly, whenever possible, if there is going to be an interruption in the supply of electricity.  

Register your details with your energy provider as soon as possible, so you can be given additional protection, such as being provided with an advanced written planned interruption notification. To register your life support request, you can visit your energy providers website to download or fill in the form online or contact your energy company by telephone to discuss your life support needs.   

  1. Lung Foundation Australia, Home Oxygen (2014)