Two days ago marked the latest tragedy of a person burned or killed due to smoking while using oxygen. The Lorain, Ohio woman’s face, eyebrows, and hair were burned by the flash fire that erupted as she smoked, but fortunately she survived. The day before, a Scottish man in Edinburgh was not so lucky. While receiving treatment at a local hospital, he snuck into a bathroom to have a cigarette in spite of being on oxygen. His cigarette sparked a fire, cost him his life, and endangered the other patients and staff of the hospital.
These are not isolated incidents. Just in the past 10 days, news reports reveal a staggering number of deaths and injuries caused by smoking while on oxygen:
- Jan. 3–Lorain, OH woman burns face, eyebrows, hair
- Jan. 2— Edinburgh, Scotland man died
- Jan. 1— Lakewood, CO man died
- Dec. 30–Kansas City, KS man did over $3,000 fire damage to home
- Dec. 30–Portland, OR man burns face, lungs
- Dec. 27— Manchester, NH man died
- Dec. 27— Carthage, MO 2 hospitalized with burns, dozen homeless from fire
However, do not interpret these events to mean that oxygen therapy is something to be afraid of. It is to be respected.
Oxygen therapy is a life-saving medical treatment that has benefitted millions of Americans and others throughout the world. It is a critical part of treatment for a variety of illnesses, injuries, and diseases, including Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), one of the leading causes of death worldwide. Oxygen therapy allows one to receive a higher concentration of pure oxygen, aiding in heart function, easier breathing, better sleeping, reduced blood pressure, improved mental clarity, and more.
The same reasons that enable oxygen to help people are also what makes cigarettes + oxygen such a deadly combination. When one receives oxygen therapy, it’s 100% pure oxygen. As you remember from grade school, the three ingredients to make a fire are fuel, heat, and an oxidizing agent (oxygen).
If you or a loved one uses supplemental oxygen, Homecare Advocate offers the following tips:
- If you’re on oxygen, DO NOT smoke.
- If you live with or visit someone on oxygen, DO NOT smoke around them.
- Stay away from open flames, sparks, and gas (including gas stoves).
- Turn the oxygen off while not in use.
- Avoid petroleum-based products.
- Do not use aerosol sprays nearby.
- Comply with all safety instructions provided by your home medical equipment company.
- Keep your oxygen concentrator in a well-ventilated area.
- Never allow the tubing, cannula, or mask to be covered, as it can result in a buildup of concentrated oxygen.
- Keep the name and number of your home medical equipment provider in a prominent spot for reference.
- Post a sign stating DANGER: No Smoking, Oxygen in Use (download the one below if you’d like)
Companies like Lambert’s who provide oxygen to our patients have qualified respiratory therapists and service technicians who are available to assist you with training, instructions, maintenance, repairs, and support while you are using supplemental oxygen. If you have any questions on how you can create a safer environment for you and your loved ones while using oxygen, please call your provider.