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Oxygen expert speaks to Better Breathers group

by Merrie Leininger

The owner of Emerald Home Oxygen of Gardnerville, Tim Stannard, who described himself as an advocate for oxygen use, said the most dangerous choice people with chronic breathing problems can make is not to use oxygen.

Stannard addressed a small number of health care workers, patients and members of the Better Breathers about safety issues of using portable oxygen equipment Wednesday at the Carson Valley Medical Center.

Stannard, who has worked as a registered nurse and for the past seven years in home health care, said Emerald received a lot of calls from their clients concerned about the safety of using pressurized oxygen.

n Generated panic. Stannard said the death of Genoa resident Frankie Schaffer had generated a lot of panic.

“People think because it happened here it happens all the time,” Stannard said.

According to the FDA, 16 aluminum regulators used with oxygen cylinders have caught fire or exploded in the past five years.

Schaffer, 77, died Jan. 16, a few days after being burned in an oxygen tank fire. She used oxygen as treatment for emphysema.

“I’m concerned people won’t use it because of the dangers, but the chance of survival is greatly increased with the use of oxygen. It is a prescribed drug that has protected the health of millions of Americans. Most people wouldn’t skip taking their heart pills prescribed by a doctor because they feel it’s not right for them. It must be used as directed,” Stannard said.

He said the use of pure oxygen 19 hours a day or more can double the life expectancy of people with pulmonary diseases.

“It’s good medicine and it’s going to help if people use it,” he said.

However, because oxygen comes in the form of a highly-pressurized canister, there is a danger of fire.

One of the most important safety precautions is not to smoke while using oxygen and not to allow anyone else to smoke within five feet while you use oxygen.

“If you must smoke, then turn off the equipment, remove the oxygen, wait at least five minutes because clothes and hair may still be saturated with oxygen, and then go outside,” Stannard said.

Keep open flames away from the oxygen equipment. That includes, matches, candles, stoves, gas ranges and furnaces. Stannard advised not to cook at all while using oxygen.

Oil-based produces such as petroleum jelly or lotion should not be used while on oxygen.

“Nasal passages sometimes get dry when using oxygen, but don’t use an oil-based product. Ask your pharmacist to recommend a water-based product,” Stannard said.

When cleaning the tank, use plain water and make sure your hands are clean.

Keeping the tank clean is important because particles in the regulator can act “like kindling,” Stannard said.

The regulator is the part of the tank that releases the oxygen at atmospheric pressure. The rapid release of pressurized oxygen creates extreme heat. High pressures can cause a fire to start if oil products or particles are in the regulator.

Do not store oxygen equipment with flammable chemicals such as gasoline, propane, mineral spirits, alcohol, solvents, paints, grease and oil. Stannard also suggested storing containers in well-ventilated location, not in an area like a car trunk. Secure the tank upright so it will not fall over.

n Ventilation important. “You always need a little ventilation when storing oxygen,” he said. “If there is a leak, once oxygen builds up, all the materials in the area could become flammable.”

Aluminum regulators are more likely to ignite than brass. Stannard suggested that patients contact their product providers if they don’t know what their regulators are made of.

If an oxygen tank does ignite, Stannard said get away quickly.

“Don’t try to put it out, water may accelerate the fire. Get away and call 911. If the tank exploded, it can blow through a wall,” Stannard said.

Stannard advised patients to weigh the health issues with the safety issues.

“Stop panicking and take safety precautions with your equipment. If in doubt, don’t use it,” he said.

The Better Breathers meet at 2:30 p.m. during the fourth Wednesday of the month at the medical center.