Using Oxygen Tanks
*Please note: This slide show is meant to be a representation only. No specific brand of oxygen equipment is being promoted or endorsed. The information provided is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always consult your doctor about any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
What is oxygen therapy?
If you have a lung problem such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or pulmonary fibrosis, you might have low oxygen levels. If so, you may need extra oxygen, or oxygen therapy.
Oxygen therapy is given using special equipment. This animation tells you about using an oxygen tank, also known as an oxygen cylinder.
What is an oxygen tank?
An oxygen tank is a metal cylinder filled with compressed oxygen.2
The air we breathe contains just 21 percent oxygen along with other gases. An oxygen tank provides a flow of 100 percent oxygen. You breathe it in through a tube that connects from the tank to a device (oxygen cannula) that you wear in your nose, or to a mask over your nose and mouth.
Why might I need an oxygen tank?
If a respiratory disease prevents you from getting enough oxygen in your blood, you can connect to or carry a tank for the extra oxygen you need.1
What are the different sizes of oxygen tanks?
Oxygen tanks come in both large and small sizes. The large ones usually stay in one place, such as your home. The smaller ones are portable. You can roll them around with you or even carry them in a backpack.2
Small, portable tanks can weigh as little as 3 kilograms, or about 6 and a half pounds.3
More about different sizes of oxygen tanks
Larger tanks with compressed oxygen can weigh as little as 8 pounds, which can be pulled on a wheeled cart, to as much as 140 pounds for a tank that stays in your home.
You may use a stationary oxygen concentrator in your home to fill portable oxygen tanks if it includes a special 'home-fill' device.3
Parts of an oxygen tank
Oxygen tanks have two main parts: the cylinder that contains oxygen and the regulator, which is like a tap that controls the oxygen flow. Some tanks may have an additional part called a conserver.6 It allows you to receive oxygen only when you breathe in.7 This is called demand flow or pulse flow. It makes the oxygen in the tank last longer.
Additional parts to know
The regulator will also have a gauge showing the amount of oxygen it holds and a meter showing how much oxygen is flowing.6
Before using your oxygen tank, it is a good idea to check that everything is working correctly, and the tank is full.7
Getting started with your oxygen tank
Wash your hands before working with your oxygen tank.7 Avoid alcohol-based hand sanitizers.
Avoid anything that produces a spark or flame nearby. Also avoid using oil- or petroleum-based products on your lips, nose, hands, or face.2
Checking the oxygen tank and flow
Attach the regulator to your oxygen tank. Make sure there is no leak between the regulator and valve post you attach it to.
Use the regulator knob or dial to adjust the flow of oxygen from the tank. Your doctor will prescribe the amount. Please let them know if you don’t think the prescribed amount is helping.
Connecting the tubing
To connect the tubing, place one end over the nozzle on your tank’s regulator. Then gently press up until the tube end is securely on the nozzle. The tubing must be connected securely enough to stay in place, even if you move around.
You may want to ask a caregiver for help. You can also contact your oxygen supplier with questions.
Transporting your oxygen tank
You may pull a portable oxygen tank on a small cart.6 Some are even small enough to carry with you in a backpack.5 Your oxygen supplier should be able to provide or recommend carrying equipment.
Transporting your oxygen tank
In a car, secure the oxygen tank so it cannot move. You can stand it up and put a seat belt around it or secure it on the floor of the car.
Do not smoke or allow anyone else to smoke around oxygen, in the car or anywhere else. Avoid leaving an oxygen tank in the trunk or leaving tanks in a hot car.9
Storing oxygen tanks
At home, keep the oxygen tank you are using stable.8 Do not let it roll around or bump into things. Ask your oxygen supply technician to show you how to store your tanks.
Keep tanks in a well-ventilated area.8 If they crack or the valve breaks off, they can be dangerous.8
Living well when you use an oxygen tank
When you are active, an oxygen tank allows you to continue using oxygen away from home or outdoors, outside the range of your concentrator. Talk with your doctor about whether an oxygen tank is right for you.
- American Thoracic Society. Oxygen therapy. Available at https://www.thoracic.org/patients/patient-resources/oxygen-therapy.php. Accessed January 3, 2022.
- American Association for Respiratory Care and Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation. Why did my provider prescribe supplemental oxygen? August 2017. Available at https://pulmonaryfibrosis-legacy.ae-admin.com/life-with-pf/pff-educational-resources/patient-education-materials. Accessed January 4, 2022.
- Hardavella G, Karampinis I, Frille A, et al. Oxygen devices and delivery systems. Breathe 2019;15:e108-3116.
- Chest Foundation. Complete guide to oxygen therapy. Available at https://foundation.chestnet.org/lung-health-a-z/oxygen-therapy/. Accessed January 11, 2022.
- Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation. Oxygen basics. Available at https://www.pulmonaryfibrosis.org/patients-caregivers/oxygen-therapy/what-is-oxygen-therapy. Accessed December 29, 2021.
- Tiep BL, Carter R. Portable oxygen delivery and oxygen conserving devices. UpToDate. Topic updated June 30, 2021. Literature review current through December 2021. Available at https://www.uptodate.com/contents/portable-oxygen-delivery-and-oxygen-conserving-devices?search=oxygen%20tanks&source=search_result&selectedTitle=1~150&usage_type=default&display_rank=1. Accessed January 18, 2021.
- American Lung Association. Using oxygen at home. Available at https://www.lung.org/lung-health-diseases/lung-procedures-and-tests/oxygen-therapy/using-oxygen-at-home. Updated July 21, 2020. Accessed January 3, 2022.
- Intermountain Healthcare Homecare Series. Portable oxygen cylinders: Training and safety guidelines. 2011-2016. Available at: https://intermountainhealthcare.org/ckr-ext/Dcmnt?ncid=521117400. Accessed January 13, 2022.
- American Lung Association. Traveling with oxygen. Updated July 21, 2020. Available at https://www.lung.org/lung-health-diseases/lung-procedures-and-tests/oxygen-therapy/traveling-with-oxygen. Accessed January 11, 2022.
Slide Show - Using Oxygen Tanks
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