The use of home oxygen therapy has become increasingly commonplace and is frequently prescribed by medical specialists. In this study, we have identified a generally unexpected risk of home oxygen therapy. We performed a retrospective review of 3673 consecutive patients treated at our adult burn center over a 10-year period from 1992 to 2001. We identified 27 patients with burns directly attributable to oxygen therapy and also noted an increased incidence of these injuries over the study period. The average age of the patients was 68.1 +/- 9.2 years (range, 40-82 years). Twenty-three were using oxygen at home, three in nursing homes, and one was an inpatient in an acute care facility. Twenty-five patients (93%) were receiving oxygen therapy for the diagnosis of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Twenty-four patients (89%) were smoking while using oxygen, two were lighting pilot lights, and one was lighting his wife's cigarette. Four patients (15%) sustained burns greater than 10% TBSA. Seventeen patients (63%) had only partial thickness burns. Thirteen patients (48%) required admission for treatment of their burn injuries. The average length of stay for those admitted was 4.4 days. The average hospital charge for admitted patients was US dollars 8055. There were four deaths (15%), all of which were correlated only with the extent of injury. Although intuitively obvious to most health care professionals, not all patients understand that oxygen therapy and cigarettes or open flame can result in a significant injury. Although some practitioners have advocated not prescribing home oxygen for those who continue to smoke, an alternative means of reducing the incidence of this preventable complication appears warranted. Prevention efforts should focus on the counseling of patients and their caregivers as well as educating primary care physicians, nurses, and home health providers as to the dangers of oxygen use.