Oxygen Therapy During a Power Outage

Preparing Yourself in Case of This or Other Emergencies

Power outages. Badge, icon, stamp, logo. Vector illustration.
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An oxygen concentrator—a device that pulls oxygen from the air around you—is a helpful option for those who use oxygen therapy, as it eliminates some of the tasks you have if you use an oxygen tank, such as monitoring remaining levels and getting timely replacements. But one notable downside of concentrators is that they require electricity to work. In the case of a power outage, and depending on the severity of your respiratory problem, this fact could make a method of convenience suddenly turn life-threatening.

Regardless of the nature of an emergency or the type of oxygen delivery that you use, it's best to be prepared. Power outages are one obvious situation to keep in mind, but there are others that can also impact your ability to continue therapy.

Level of Oxygen Dependence

People use supplemental oxygen for a variety of reasons. It could be a valuable tool to help prevent the decline of a respiratory condition, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or lung cancer. Or, you might be completely dependent on your equipment to survive. You may use it all the time, or just at night when you sleep, such as for sleep apnea.

If you are not sure of the extent of your oxygen dependency, talk to your doctor. Specifically ask if you can get by without it for any duration of time and, if so, exactly how much. It is worth asking about this again if and whenever your doctor notes that your condition has declined.

This will be invaluable information to you and anyone who may help care for you during a situation like a power outage. Your emergency planning will hinge on this answer.

Plan Ahead

Even if the power grid rarely fails in your area, oxygen dependence means that you need to protect your health by preparing in the event of that unlikely power outage.

In any emergency that limits your access to supplemental oxygen (say, getting ahold of a back-up tank), you'll also want to know how to make the most of the oxygen you do have and what to do if it's not enough.

Get Back-Up

If you use a concentrator and your device runs on battery power (or can function with a battery back-up), make sure to always have a supply of freshly charged batteries that can get you through at least a few days.

If you don't normally use batteries and are unaware of how long your equipment can run on them if needed, contact your medical supplier or the manufacturer for this information.

Also consider getting an emergency generator, especially if you live in a remote location. Some home generators turn on automatically and some need to be switched on manually. Make sure you know how to use whichever generator you choose, and place it in an area that will allow you to quickly access it if needed.

It is wise to have an oxygen tank supply (and know how to use it) in case you need to switch to a delivery method that doesn't require electricity as well. Extra on-hand tanks or cylinders are, obviously, also advised for people who use them regularly.

Because of the stability of medical gases that are stored properly, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not require that tanks be labeled with expiration dates. Be sure to check them regularly to ensure they have not leaked (check the gauge) and are in working order (turn the valve on briefly to release air as a test).

It is helpful to ensure that your medical supply company labels back-up oxygen tanks or cylinders with how many minutes of oxygen are available in each. When you place your order, ask that this be done, or add the label yourself.

Make sure that your supply is kept away from open flames, gas, and smoke.

Medical Adjustments

Talk to your doctor about how to reduce your oxygen flow rate during an emergency. While not optimal, you may be able to extend whatever oxygen you have access to and mitigate complications with this advice.

It is also worth reducing strenuous physical activity when you are in danger of running out of your oxygen supply, as this reduced your oxygen needs.

Gather a Support Team

Make sure you have a few people you can call in case of an emergency. This may include friends, neighbors, co-workers, or other people who live in close proximity to you who are willing to lend a hand.

Your support team needs to be able to get to you quickly and should be ready to take you and your equipment to a place where you can use your oxygen, be it their home or a local facility.

Plan for transport by understanding what you need to take with you when you travel with oxygen, and consider providing people who have agreed to help you with written information about how to set up your oxygen device. (Keep in mind that there is a chance that you might feel sick and possibly unable to do things yourself and/or communicate with healthcare providers in an emergency situation.)

Recreation centers, churches, or service clubs may have volunteers who sign up for tasks like driving neighborhood residents to the hospital or transporting heavy items (such as your oxygen tank). If you have access to a volunteer group who are prepared for emergencies, be sure to have their number handy and discuss your situation with them ahead of time.

Getting Help

Find out the procedure to document your health situation with your local power company, local emergency services, and your oxygen supply company. This may help you get assistance you need sooner.

  • Power company: Some companies offer oxygen-dependent patients priority service or even a generator when their power goes out. Find out what steps you need to take to sign up for this type of service today.
  • Local police and fire departments: Contact them to let them know that you are oxygen-dependent. If your own emergency plan fails, you may be able to use their facilities as a power source.
  • Medical facilities: Find out whether your local hospital or urgent care has a backup generator or oxygen supply, and figure out how you can get there if needed.
  • Shelters: If you are planning to head to an emergency shelter, contact the shelter or speak with coordinating volunteers before going (if possible) to ensure that they can accommodate your needs.

A Word From Verywell

Oxygen dependency requires planning for emergencies. Power outage, storms, floods, hurricanes, and other natural disasters can make it impossible for you to use your oxygen at home. Make sure you alert nearby emergency services ahead of time so that you will be a priority when it comes to rescue and getting you to a place where you can use your oxygen.

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Article Sources

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  1. Desalvo K, Lurie N, Finne K, et al. Using Medicare data to identify individuals who are electricity dependent to improve disaster preparedness and response. Am J Public Health. 2014;104(7):1160-4.doi.10.2105/AJPH.2014.302009

  2. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Compliance Program Guidance Manual: Compressed Medical Gases.

  3. ADA National Network. Emergency Power Planning for People Who Use Electricity and Battery-Dependent Assistive Technology and Medical Devices. Published 2017.