The use of oxygen therapy in the home has become increasingly common.

The use of oxygen therapy in the home has become increasingly common.

A growing older adult population, shorter hospital stays, and home health care services have increased the number of home portable oxygen systems in use.

But administering oxygen therapy away from a medical facility, which is typically protected by fire protection systems and stringent safety regulations, and shifting it to an unregulated home environment, increases the fire risk to the user.

Under normal circumstances, room air contains approximately 21 percent oxygen.

Residential oxygen therapy systems increase the percentage of oxygen in the atmosphere around the patient.

Oxygen molecules can saturate clothing, fabric, hair, beards and anything in the area.

Oxygen is not flammable, but it can cause other materials that burn to ignite more easily and burn far more rapidly.

Oxygen is of great benefit to those in need of oxygen therapy, but it should always be handled with caution and awareness of the potential hazards.

Here are some safety tips to make your home safe during oxygen therapy:

• Do not smoke or allow others to smoke in your home. Smoking is the leading cause of burns, reported fires, deaths and injuries involving home medical oxygen. Clearly identify that oxygen is in use by placing a sign on your front door. (This may be obtained from the oxygen supply company.)

• Stay at least five feet away from flame sources such as gas stoves, candles, lighted fireplaces or any other heat sources.

• Do not use flammable products such as cleaning fluid, paint thinner or aerosol sprays while using oxygen.

• Make sure oxygen cylinders are well-secured. Oxygen containers should be stored in an upright position. Never tip an oxygen cylinder on its side or try to roll it to a new location.

• Keep all grease, oil and petroleum products and flammable materials away from your oxygen equipment. Some organic materials can react violently with oxygen if ignited by a hot spark.

• Use water-based lubricants on your lips and hands. Don't use an oil-based product like petroleum jelly, petroleum based creams or lotions.

• Always operate oxygen cylinder or container valves slowly. Abrupt starting and stopping of oxygen flow may ignite any contaminant that might be in the system.

• When cleaning an oxygen concentrator, make sure it is unplugged. If the machine is wiped down while it is plugged in, a wet cloth cannot be used.

• Always have your gas supplier's number available when needed.

• Ensure that you have an all purpose (ABC) fire extinguisher close by and familiarize yourself with its use.

Washington Township Fire Department Fire Marshal Alan Perkins submitted the Smoke Signals column.