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What Are the Risks of Oxygen Therapy?

Oxygen therapy can cause complications and side effects. These problems might include a dry or bloody nose, skin irritation from the nasal cannula or face mask, fatigue (tiredness), and morning headaches.

If these problems persist, tell your doctor and home equipment provider. Depending on the problem, your doctor may need to change your oxygen flow rate or the length of time you're using the oxygen.

If nose dryness is a problem, your doctor may recommend a nasal spray or have a humidifier added to your oxygen equipment.

If you have an uncomfortable nasal cannula or face mask, your home equipment provider can help you find a device that fits better. Your provider also can recommend over-the-counter gels and devices that are designed to lessen skin irritation.

Complications from transtracheal oxygen therapy can be more serious. With this type of oxygen therapy, oxygen is delivered through a tube inserted into your windpipe through the front of your neck.

With transtracheal oxygen therapy:

  • Mucus balls might develop on the tube inside the windpipe. Mucus balls tend to form as a result of the oxygen drying out the airways. Mucus balls can cause coughing and clog the windpipe or tube.
  • Problems with the tube slipping or breaking.
  • Infection.
  • Injury to the lining of the windpipe.

Proper medical care and correct handling of the tube and other supplies may reduce the risk of complications.

Other Risks

In certain people, oxygen therapy may suppress the drive to breathe, affecting how well the respiratory system works.  This is managed by adjusting the oxygen flow rate.

Oxygen poses a fire risk, so you'll need to take certain safety steps. Oxygen itself isn't explosive, but it can worsen a fire. In the presence of oxygen, a small fire can quickly get out of control. Also, the cylinder that compressed oxygen gas comes in might explode if exposed to heat.

Your home equipment provider will give you a complete list of safety steps you'll need to take at home and when out in public.

For example, when you're not using the oxygen, keep it in an airy room. Never store compressed oxygen gas cylinders and liquid oxygen containers in small, enclosed places, such as in closets, behind curtains, or under clothes.

Oxygen containers let off small amounts of oxygen. These small amounts can build up to harmful levels if they're allowed to escape into small spaces.

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Oxygen Therapy Clinical Trials

Clinical trials are research studies that explore whether a medical strategy, treatment, or device is safe and effective for humans. To find clinical trials that are currently underway for Oxygen Therapy, visit www.clinicaltrials.gov.

 
February 24, 2012 Last Updated Icon

The NHLBI updates Health Topics articles on a biennial cycle based on a thorough review of research findings and new literature. The articles also are updated as needed if important new research is published. The date on each Health Topics article reflects when the content was originally posted or last revised.