Part VI: Traveling with Medical Oxygen

The beauty of using a portable oxygen concentrator (like the Inogen One G4, Inogen One G5 or SimplyGo) is that it affords the freedom and independence to travel where you want, when you want. Always check with your doctor before traveling by automobile, train or airplane, to make sure you’re healthy enough to travel. Once your doctor gives you the okay, keep in mind the following oxygen safety traveling tips:

  • Before leaving, check with your oxygen supply company for specific advice about traveling safely with supplemental oxygen.
  • If you’ve chosen an oxygen cylinder as your primary oxygen source, it’s often difficult to find a company who’ll refill it while on the road. Be sure to take along enough cylinders to supply your entire trip. Check with your oxygen supply company for additional advice.
  • If you plan to be away from home longer than your portable oxygen will allow, check with your oxygen supply company about getting oxygen delivered to your planned destination. Your oxygen supply company should also inform you if and where you can refill your tank, just in case of an emergency.
  • If using liquid oxygen, ask your oxygen supply company about obtaining a liquid base unit for your car. This way, you can refill your portable liquid unit without a hitch.
  • Store liquid oxygen tanks in the upright position when traveling.
  • Portable oxygen concentrators can be stored in any position, but make sure they are properly padded and secured to avoid damage upon impact.
  • Small oxygen cylinders can be stored in any position, but the valve on top and the liter flow knob must be protected from a collision with a seat belt, webbing, or other such safety equipment.
  • If you’re unable to get oxygen delivered while out of town, check with your insurance company for other companies that may be able to deliver once you arrive. It may create an out-of-pocket expense, but it’s better to be prepared by knowing in advance to whom you can turn for assistance.
  • Traveling with oxygen safely is your top priority on any trip. Because an oxygen tank can become a dangerous projectile in an accident, it’s important that you secure your oxygen source firmly in the back seat of your car according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Keep all oxygen units away from heat. Avoid storing in the trunk of the car where heat build-up can become severe.
  • When oxygen is in use, things burn more readily in its presence. Keeping your windows cracked when oxygen is in use in the car will prevent an accumulation of excess oxygen that could combust in an explosion. In addition, never smoke in the presence of oxygen, whether in your home or in your automobile.
  • Depending upon the airline, certain restrictions may apply when traveling on board with medical oxygen. Be sure to contact the airline in advance before buying your ticket to make sure you’ll be able to meet the necessary requirements.

Managing Complications

Oxygen therapy, when used according to your health care provider’s instructions, is generally safe and effective. Minor complications are possible, and can usually be managed at home. If they persist or become bothersome, talk to your health care provider for more information.
Listed below are the most common complications associated with using oxygen via a nasal cannula:

  • Nosebleeds – Nosebleeds are often the result of dry nasal passages for which nasal spray or humidified oxygen may be the solution. If nosebleeds persist, this may be a sign of a more serious condition and should be discussed with your healthcare provider.
  • Skin irritation – Left untreated, skin irritation can lead to skin breakdown, which can be unsightly and painful. If you start to notice skin changes associated with wearing your nasal cannula, it may be that your device isn’t properly fitted. Talk to your oxygen supply company to see if they can send a respiratory therapist out to fit you with a more suitable device. Ear protectors help reduce the risk of irritation around the ear area where the cannula tubing rests. Gels are also available to help minimize skin irritation inside the nostrils caused by the nasal cannula prongs.
  • Dry nose – Oxygen has a drying effect on the nasal passages, which can lead to dryness of the nose and breathing passages. Saline sprays are available over the counter that help keep the nasal passages moist. If sprays don’t remedy the situation, talk to your doctor about using humidified oxygen.

Remember: Talk to your health care provider about these, and other complications associated with using supplemental oxygen. Adjusting your oxygen flow rate or length of time you use oxygen may help alleviate complications. Avoid changing the way you use oxygen without the advice of your health care provider.