Ask Joan: Breathe Easier by Taking Home Oxygen and Cigarette Safety | News

Question: My brother, 72, is in the early stages of emphysema. He has been trying to quit for some time and is making substantial progress, gradually reducing the amount he smokes. He has just returned from a brief stay in the hospital and his discharge plan requires him to use oxygen as needed. I know that smoking and oxygen definitely don’t mix. Do you have any advice on how to handle this?

To respond: Home oxygen use is a lifesaver for many people with various medical conditions. However, the Massachusetts Department of Fire Services warns that using oxygen in the home increases the risk of fire, the intensity of a fire, and the possibility of a person sustaining serious burns. Oxygen use can saturate your environment with oxygen – in the air, bedding, furniture, and in an individual’s clothing and hair. This situation feeds a fire, making it easier to start and spread quickly. Oxygen fueled fires burn faster than other fires. In short, you cannot safely smoke around oxygen in your home because everything in the environment absorbs it.

Here are some general tips on using oxygen at home:


Store oxygen cylinders upright and secure.

Post an “Oxygen in Use” on the property.

Make sure your smoke alarms are working. Test them every month.

Prepare an evacuation plan in case of fire. There should be two exits from each room and a designated meeting place outside where all members of the household who have escaped meet. Practice this plan at least once a year.

Keep your oxygen tube 10 feet away from any heat sources like candles, matches, lighters, radiators, fireplaces, wood stoves, stoves, hair dryers, electric razors, and even sparkly toys for children. All smoking articles, including ashtrays, should be kept as far away from oxygen as possible.

Also, you should avoid using petroleum-based products such as lip balms, lotions, oils, and forms of grease, as they can easily ignite.

Encourage your brother to reach his goal to quit smoking. The State of Massachusetts offers the free services of a qualified quit smoking coach through the Smoking and Nicotine Quit Helpline at 1-800-QUIT-NOW. Here, your sibling can chat with a coach about controlling his tobacco cravings, dealing with daily stress, and dealing with any relapses he may experience.

Good luck to you both.

Do you struggle to care for an elderly person or have difficulty finding resources? Our experienced staff is available to help you. Visit us online at for more information. You can also call us at 800-892-0890 or email Joan Hatem-Roy is the CEO of AgeSpan, formerly Elder Services of the Merrimack Valley and North Shore.

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Susan W. Lloyd