Oxygen tanks are medical devices that store supplemental oxygen. You may need an oxygen tank if you have a lung condition that affects your breathing. There are three main types of oxygen tanks: compressed oxygen, liquid oxygen and oxygen concentrator. A healthcare provider will teach you how to use your oxygen tank.
Oxygen tanks are large metal cylinders that store oxygen under pressure (compressed oxygen). They’re part of oxygen therapy. If you have a lung condition or difficulty breathing, oxygen tanks help your body get the oxygen it needs to function.
The oxygen may be in gas or liquid form. The tanks come in many different sizes. Some are large and difficult to move, so you only use them in a hospital setting or at home. Others are small, so you can take them with you when you go out. You receive the oxygen either through a plastic mask that fits over your nose and mouth or a flexible plastic tube with two prongs that go into your nostrils (nasal cannula).
The main types of oxygen tanks include:
Oxygen tanks can help if you have:
Using an oxygen tank also doesn’t require you to have a condition that affects your breathing. Some people use oxygen tanks when they visit high-altitude areas. This includes athletes.
All portable oxygen tanks have the same basic valve shape and size. Once you learn how to use one type of oxygen tank, you should also be able to use other types.
It’s a good idea to keep your oxygen tank equipment clean to help prevent illness or infection:
It depends on why you need to use an oxygen tank.
If you have a short-term condition, you may only need an oxygen tank until you recover.
If you have a long-lasting condition, you may need to use an oxygen tank for the rest of your life. A healthcare provider will work with you to adjust to living with an oxygen tank so it doesn’t interfere with your normal activities, including work, bathing, exercising and traveling.
Oxygen tanks are common. More than 1.5 million people in the United States use oxygen tanks as part of their supplemental oxygen therapy.
The main benefit of using an oxygen tank is that it helps you breathe easier. It isn’t a cure and might not completely relieve shortness of breath. But it should make it easier for you to breathe.
Other benefits include:
It depends on what condition requires you to use an oxygen tank. Many people lead long, active lifestyles while using an oxygen tank. Talk to a healthcare provider. They can give you an estimate according to your specific situation.
You can refill an oxygen concentrator at home as long as you have electricity or batteries to run it. Home oxygen refill systems also allow you to fill compressed air oxygen tanks from home. They compress air from the room around you. It can take up to a few hours to fill a tank.
You can also schedule oxygen tank deliveries through a hospital or medical equipment supplier.
No, you need a prescription from a healthcare provider to get and fill an oxygen tank.
Oxygen isn’t flammable. But it makes fire burn hotter and faster and can result in an explosion. Make sure you keep your oxygen tank at least 10 feet away from open flames, sources of high temperatures and flammable materials, including:
It’s a good idea to put “No smoking” signs around the entrances of your home. If you need a topical or lubricating ointment, use a water-based product, such as K-Y Jelly®.
You should also avoid using electrical equipment around your oxygen tank. There’s a risk that electrical equipment can spark and cause a fire. This includes items such as:
If you use an oxygen concentrator, it’s a good idea to keep at least one extra set of fully charged batteries handy in case your power goes out. You should have enough batteries available to run your oxygen concentrator for a few days.
Oxygen tanks can also be heavy. A falling oxygen tank can cause an injury or break. If it breaks, escaping air could send the tank soaring through the air. Always secure your oxygen tank in a carrier or cart.
Avoid contact with liquid oxygen. Exposure to your skin can cause cryogenic burns or frostbite.
While using an oxygen tank, you should call a healthcare provider if you have symptoms that affect your breathing, as well as:
These are signs of oxygen poisoning. Oxygen poisoning is when breathing in too much supplemental oxygen damages your lungs.
You should also contact a healthcare provider if you think your oxygen tank or regulator isn’t working properly. Have a provider check your tanks at least twice a year to ensure they work correctly.
Yes, you need a prescription from a healthcare provider to get an oxygen tank.
You can’t buy oxygen tanks over the counter. If you need a new oxygen tank, reach out to a healthcare provider or a medical supply company.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
If you have a condition that affects your breathing or are going to spend time in a high-altitude area, you may need an oxygen tank. Using a nasal cannula or an oxygen mask may be uncomfortable at first. And transporting a portable tank may require some adjustments. But an oxygen tank shouldn’t prevent you from participating in many of your regular activities. Talk to a healthcare provider if you have any questions or feelings of uncertainty. They can help you acclimate to using an oxygen tank.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 08/04/2023.
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