Oxygen Delivery Systems

Topic Overview

Oxygen can be delivered in several ways:

  • Concentrators, which take oxygen from the air, are the least expensive. Standard concentrators need to be plugged into a power outlet and are fairly heavy [about 30 lb (13.6 kg)]. A standard oxygen concentrator is typically used in the home. Portable oxygen concentrators are also available. These usually have rechargeable batteries, are lighter, and may be used while traveling.
  • Cylinders, or tanks, of compressed or pressurized oxygen gas come in several sizes. The largest are too heavy to move around. Smaller tanks can be carried or pulled in a small cart. You might use a large tank as backup in your home and have smaller tanks for use outside the home.
  • Liquid oxygen takes up less room than oxygen gas. Because of this, smaller and lighter containers can hold more oxygen.

Oxygen can be given through a flexible plastic tube inserted in the nostrils (nasal cannula) or through a face mask.

  • The nasal cannula gives you the greatest freedom for moving around and talking. But this method may be more expensive than other devices because of oxygen lost to the air. The amount of oxygen actually inhaled may be less than with other methods of delivery.
  • People who need a higher flow of oxygen can use a face mask. But a face mask is less portable and gets in the way of talking and eating. You might use a face mask at night and a nasal cannula during the day.

Selecting the type of oxygen supply should be based on your ability to move around. People who seldom leave the house may find an oxygen concentrator gives the best combination of convenience and cost. More active people may have an oxygen concentrator at home and use a portable oxygen tank when they leave the house.

Oxygen is a fire hazard. It is important to follow safety measures to keep you and your family safe. With all oxygen delivery systems, do not use oxygen around lit cigarettes or an open flame, because the risk of fire or explosion is high. If you or those who care for you smoke, be sure to think very carefully about using oxygen therapy.


By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Ken Y. Yoneda, MD - Pulmonology
Current as of March 12, 2014

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.

© 1995-2014 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.

Additional Resources

First Nurse

  • First Nurse: Talk to one of our nurses 24 hours a day for free health care advice, resources and referrals! Call 515-239-6877 or 800-524-6877.
  • Health Library: Search our online library containing information on health conditions, medications, medical tests, and more.

Symptom Checker

Use our interactive symptom checker to evaluate your symptoms and determine appropriate action or treatment.

Symptom Checker