Oxygen therapy: General knowledge

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Learn why your child with a tracheostomy may require oxygen therapy and how it can be provided safely at home.

At the end of this chapter, you will be able to: 

  • discuss the different types of home oxygen therapy delivery systems
  • demonstrate how to provide oxygen to your child
  • discuss safety considerations when using oxygen
  • review travelling with oxygen

What is oxygen?

An oxygen tank with a gauge connected to the top
An oxygen cylinder with regulator.

Oxygen is a gas that makes up about 21 per cent of the air we breathe. Oxygen acts as an important fuel that supports our body to produce the energy it needs for life and growth.

Some conditions may cause your child to have low oxygen saturation levels requiring them to need more oxygen to help with breathing. This is called supplemental oxygen.

You may hear occasional low oxygen saturation levels be referred to as "desaturations". Providing supplemental oxygen to your child to help them with breathing is called oxygen therapy.

What is oxygen therapy?

Home oxygen therapy is oxygen that is provided through a machine at home. It is used for many different heart and lung conditions and can help make breathing easier for your child. Oxygen is considered a medication when it is delivered as a therapy, so you will need a prescription from your child’s health-care team.

Some children need oxygen therapy for the rest of their lives, but others may need it only temporarily. Some children need oxygen throughout the day, but others may need it only when they sleep.

How will I know if my child needs home oxygen therapy?

To identify if your child needs home oxygen therapy, your child’s health-care team will perform a 5-minute oximetry strip or an overnight oximetry test to monitor their oxygen levels while they sleep. Alternatively, your child’s health-care provider may order a sleep study. From there, they can identify how much oxygen your child needs.

If your health-care team determines that your child requires oxygen during the oximetry test, they will do another oximetry test while your child is using oxygen and write a letter to accompany your child's application for home oxygen therapy.

What happens during the overnight oximetry test?

The overnight oximetry test uses a machine called an oximeter (an oxygen saturation monitor). This uses a probe attached to your child’s finger, toe or foot to measure the amount of oxygen in your child's blood. Sometimes, your child’s health-care team will order a blood test for the morning after the overnight oximetry test.

When the test is finished, your child’s health-care team will remove the probe and will print and review an oximetry, the record of your child’s oxygen levels while the probe was in place.

Based on the oximetry, the health-care team can identify if your child needs home oxygen therapy and, if so, how much oxygen they need. They can then monitor your child’s oxygen levels over time to decide if the prescription needs to be changed or if your child still needs home oxygen therapy.

What happens if home oxygen therapy is recommended for my child?

Once your child’s health-care team confirms that your child needs oxygen therapy at home, the next steps are to:

  • complete an Assistive Devices Program (ADP) Home Oxygen Program (HOP) application
  • choose a local medical vendor to obtain a home oxygen therapy system

Assistive Devices Program (ADP) funding

Your child’s health-care provider will confirm if you qualify for funding from the Assistive Devices Program (ADP) run by the Ontario Ministry of Health (MOH).

To apply for ADP funding for home oxygen therapy​, you, your child’s health-care team and the medical vendor will work together to complete an application form.

ADP covers 75 per cent of the cost of home oxygen therapy. Private insurance may pay for the remaining 25 per cent. If you are receiving government benefits (such as Ontario Works (OW), Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP), Assistance for Children with Severe Disabilities (ACSD) or Interim Federal Health Program (IFHP), the ADP will cover 100 per cent of the oxygen costs. Your child may also qualify for 100 per cent funding if they have Home and Community Care Support Services such as nursing as they will receive an ODB (Ontario Drug Benefits) card.

Medical vendors that supply oxygen at home

The medical vendor is a company that will supply the home oxygen therapy system for your home. Your health-care team will connect you with the medical vendor nearest to you.

The company will come into your home to set up the home oxygen therapy system and work with you to figure out the best way to provide your home with a fixed source of oxygen. The medical vendor will also provide portable tanks that you will use with your child outside your home and if there is a power failure.

How do I use oxygen therapy safely in my home?

Oxygen is safe to use at home; however, there are precautions to ensure the safety of your family when oxygen therapy is in use in your home.

Because oxygen is highly flammable, inform your local fire department that you have a child using home oxygen therapy. It’s a good idea to post a sign at the entrance of your home indicating that oxygen is in use in the home.

Keep away from flammable heat sources

  • Keep the oxygen system at least 1.8 metres (6 feet) away from sources of heat or fire.
  • Sources of heat or fire include fireplaces, candles, smoking devices, furnaces and stoves.
  • High temperatures increase the pressure inside oxygen cylinders and liquid reservoirs, which can cause them to break.
  • Avoid anything that sparks for example, lighters, electric razors, electric blankets, electric toothbrushes, hair dryers or toys or tools with motors.
  • Store the oxygen in a well-ventilated area away from sunlight. Do not store cylinders/tanks or liquid units in a closet.

No smoking

  • Smoking is a fire hazard. Do not smoke or let anyone else, including visitors, smoke in the area where your child is using the oxygen system.
  • You can place a “no smoking” sign on the doors of your house as a precaution.

Precautions when leaving the home

  • Always check portable tanks before you leave home to make sure you will have enough oxygen while you are away from home.
  • Plan to bring extra oxygen in case you encounter an unexpected delay returning home.
  • Never store oxygen tanks in the trunk of the car or leave them in a hot vehicle.
  • If you are going out of town, call your supply vendor ahead of time to see if they can deliver oxygen to your destination.
  • If flying, call the airline to make special arrangements for your child.

Additional precautions

  • Never allow anyone who has not been trained to touch or change the controls of your child’s oxygen equipment.
  • Do not use Vaseline or other petroleum-based products on your child’s face.

Maintain functioning smoke and carbon monoxide detectors

Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors should be checked frequently, and batteries should be replaced at least every six months. Ensure you have a fire escape plan and fire extinguishers accessible to you and that you know how to use them.

Please see the page on Travelling when your child uses home oxygen therapy for more information on safely transporting oxygen.

Last updated: November 10th 2023