Home Oxygen Therapy and Smoking, a Dangerous Combination

By October 20, 2016Burn Injuries
Inhalation Burn Injuries

Home oxygen therapy (HOT) is a common prescription for those who suffer from chronic breathing disorders such as COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease). Oxygen therapy is sometimes the only viable method for patients of these disorders to get their necessary oxygen. HOT takes oxygen therapy a step further by allowing these patients to bring oxygen home in metal cylinders. But HOT also poses a danger when patients don’t understand the interaction between HOT and smoking, a frighteningly common combination. According to a recent analysis of burn injury admissions between 2008 and 2013, smokers who are offered home oxygen therapy are twice as likely to suffer burn injuries compared to other smokers. Despite this, home oxygen therapy is still a common prescription for smokers and non-smokers alike.

Why is Home Oxygen Therapy Dangerous?

Most people understand that fire requires oxygen. You blow on a fire, and it gets bigger. But what many people may not realize is that air is composed of approximately 20 percent oxygen. Most of air is made up of nitrogen, a non-flammable gas. When you blow on a fire, you are actually giving the fire access to more oxygen; that’s why the fire gets larger.

Home oxygen therapy is effective for breathing disorders because the oxygen mask supplies 100 percent oxygen, making it easier for the patient’s lungs to absorb the necessary amount of oxygen. But not all of the oxygen from the oxygen mask is consumed by the patient. Small amounts collect in the patient’s hair, clothes, and body. When an ignition source—a cigarette—moves close enough to these pockets of oxygen, they ignite and burn very intensely.

Is There a Viable Solution?

An obvious solution to resolve the apparent issue is for HOT patients to quit smoking, but this does not always occur. If there is one thing that is clear from the numerous resources devoted to helping people stop smoking it is that quitting can be extremely difficult. Removing HOT treatment is also not reasonable since the treatment is necessary for the patient to receive adequate oxygen.

According to Russellville Fire Marshal Justin Green, who is responsible for enforcing fire codes and investigating the origin of fires, there is no method that will make smoking while using home oxygen entirely safe. Even shutting off the oxygen tank before lighting the cigarette won’t get rid of oxygen pockets on the body. But there are some precautionary steps that can be taken to reduce this risk. First, never smoke inside a building that has a medical oxygen tank. Place “No Smoking” signs so that others are aware of the potential danger. Always go outside to smoke. Moving around and the fresh air will allow any lingering oxygen to dissipate. Additionally, if any oxygen does happen to ignite it won’t have an opportunity to set off further reactions in the house or start a larger fire. Even when it’s cold outside, the risk of smoking inside a building where an oxygen unit has been used is simply too high.

Will Walker

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