According to the American Thoracic Society, more than 1.5 million adults in the U.S. use supplemental oxygen at home for a variety of respiratory disorders to improve their quality of life and prolong their survival. Conditions that might require supplemental oxygen include COPD, pulmonary fibrosis, pneumonia, asthma, cystic fibrosis and sleep apnea.
Supplemental oxygen is also often used to treat patients with severe cases of COVID-19. In India, during the spring surge, the supply of oxygen ran dangerously low, and families were forced to try to find oxygen resources for their loved ones as hospital supplies were depleted, leading to the deaths of thousands.
“As we in health care watch disasters unfold, we are saddened by the loss and suffering,” says Dr. Asha Devereaux, a pulmonary medicine doctor affiliated with Sharp Coronado Hospital. “There have been tremendous strides in preparedness and coordination in the U.S. at hospital, local, state and national levels. However, every year, disasters are increasing in frequency and devastation.”
According to Dr. Devereaux, lack of electrical power, communication and transportation are common during and in the aftermath of any disaster, such as hurricanes, fires or floods. Because oxygen concentrators rely on a continuous power supply, it is particularly vulnerable to disasters. As the population ages, the number of people using supplemental oxygen is rising — leaving them vulnerable during and after a disaster.
“Unfortunately, disaster resources and preparedness are insufficient in targeting the number of people using life-sustaining equipment,” Dr. Devereaux says. “And these individuals are often left to fend for themselves or appear at hospitals to find a source of power for their equipment.”
She notes that it is important to identify these individuals before a disaster and educate them and their families regarding evacuation, as well as support them during and after a disaster in the event of a power failure.
10 emergency preparedness tips for oxygen users
In case of emergency, Dr. Devereaux offers the following 10 recommendations for people who use supplemental oxygen:
- Document your doctor’s and durable medical equipment (DME) provider’s phone number and point of contact in your phone, wallet and carrying case at all times. Your DME will be your source for oxygen replacement and will send out extra tanks when possible.
- Ask your DME provider for a portable tank of oxygen to have on hand in preparation for a possible disaster.
- Regularly check the oxygen gauge on your equipment to ensure you have enough in case of an emergency.
- Inform your electric company of your need for DME equipment. In many areas, regional power outages can be limited to avoid your section. Discounts may also be available.
- Tell your local police and fire departments that you use oxygen in your home. They may be able to provide emergency services or help restore power more quickly when power is lost.
- Tell your friends, family members and loved ones about your oxygen use so that they can assist you during power outages and other emergencies.
- Maintain a mini go-bag at all times with a small supply of medications, nebulizers, cannulas and inhalers.
- Evacuate early. Most disasters result in some aspect of power limitation, poor air quality and disruption of supply chains. Shelters, hotels and family members will have people and backup power to assist you.
- Make sure you have charged batteries for any portable device and consider purchasing an emergency generator, especially if you are in a remote location and assistance might be delayed in reaching you.
- Keep a flashlight handy by your bed.
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