Oxygen therapy

This page talks about oxygen therapy. For more information, see our Essential Guide to Oxygen Therapy (PDF).


If you are living with a long-term chest condition that affects your oxygen levels, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or bronchiectasis, oxygen therapy is a medical treatment that can help you to get the extra oxygen you need. It can help to improve your symptoms and increase your energy levels, your level of activity and your life expectancy.

How to know if oxygen therapy is right for you

Oxygen therapy will not be right for you if your oxygen levels are normal, even if you are breathless. Extra oxygen when you don’t need it can damage your lungs and make your breathlessness worse.You will need an oxygen assessment to find out if oxygen therapy is right for you. You can be referred for an oxygen assessment by your doctor, nurse or respiratory team.

Your oxygen assessment

Oxygen assessments usually take place in hospital or at a community clinic. They can also take place in your home if your symptoms are very bad.

For the assessment, different breathing tests will be done. You may also be asked to do a simple exercise or walking test. Depending on your results, you may be asked to return to the clinic a few weeks later to see if your oxygen levels have changed over this time.

What happens next?

If the assessment shows that oxygen therapy is right for you, your doctor or nurse will talk to you about your options and what happens next.

Oxygen is a medicine and needs to be ordered for you by a healthcare professional. You will use either a nasal cannula or face mask to breathe in the oxygen.

A nasal cannula is made of lightweight tubing with two 'prongs' that rest just inside your nose.

A  face mask covers your nose and mouth and is kept in place by plastic straps that go around your head.

Your oxygen supplier

In Scotland, oxygen is supplied by a company called Dolby Vivisol. Dolby Vivisol are responsible for the delivery, set up, servicing, maintenance, regular checks and repair of your oxygen therapy equipment.

You will be given a Dolby Vivisol Patient Information Pack and detailed information on:

  • your oxygen equipment, how to use it and how to look after it
  • safety when using and storing your oxygen equipment
  • what to do if there is a problem with your oxygen equipment
  • telling your insurance provider about the use of oxygen in your home or in your car

Before starting oxygen therapy, Dolby Vivisol will also carry out a risk assessment in your home to make sure it is safe for you to use and store oxygen equipment.

Your oxygen equipment

What oxygen equipment you need will depend on:

  • your health condition
  • your symptoms
  • how active you are
  • discussions with your healthcare professional about what type of equipment is best for you.

Examples of oxygen equipment include:

  • oxygen cylinders
  • liquid oxygen
  • oxygen concentrators.

Your equipment will be adjusted to control how much oxygen you breathe in. This is called the flow rate. Never change the flow rate unless your doctor or respiratory team tells you to do so.

Safety tips

Oxygen can be a fire hazard and special care is needed when using and storing oxygen. However, it can be used safely by following the advice given to you in your Dolby Vivisol Patient Information Pack. It is important that you read this information carefully.

  • Smoking around oxygen is very dangerous. Never smoke around oxygen or let others smoke near you. This includes smoking e-cigarettes.
  • When using oxygen, always stay at least 3 metres (10 feet) away from:
    • sparking objects, such as gas cookers
    • naked flames, such as a lighter or candle
    • extreme heat, such as direct sunlight.
  • Do not use oil or grease on any part of your oxygen equipment.
  • Only use water-based creams and moisturisers – oil-based moisturisers such as petroleum jelly (e.g. Vaseline) should not be used.
  • Never make any adjustments to your oxygen equipment unless told to by your doctor or respiratory team.

Staying active

Most people on oxygen therapy can have an active lifestyle. If you need oxygen to get out and about, this will be considered as part of your oxygen therapy assessment.

For more information on oxygen therapy, including information on travelling with oxygen, see our Essential Guide to Oxygen Therapy (PDF).