When you are first prescribed supplemental oxygen, there are a number of things you need to learn about how to use your oxygen delivery device and equipment. One of the most essential aspects of using and caring for your equipment is learning how to take care of your nasal cannula. Since your nasal cannula delivers the oxygen directly into your body via your nostrils, it is essential to keep your cannula clean and in excellent shape. In order to help you do just that, here are five quick care tips to help you with your nasal cannula maintenance.
1. Surface clean your nasal cannula after every use
Keeping your nasal cannula clean is vital to your health in a number of different ways, so it is important to follow a number of sanitary measures. An externally dirty nasal cannula could cause irritation like a skin rash or sores on your skin, which can be frustrating and painful. More concerning, though, is that if any bacteria are allowed to build on your cannula, you could end up with an infection in your nostrils or even in your respiratory system. To avoid problems like these, it is important to clean your nasal cannula every time you use it. This does mean that you could be cleaning off your nasal cannula several times a day, but it is much better to be safe than sorry when it comes to maintaining your health and avoiding any complications.
Always make sure to read the manufacturer’s directions on how to clean your particular nasal cannula, as each manufacturer’s recommendations will vary. However, there are two general recommendations for cleaning your nasal cannula after each use:
- Damp cloth: Some manufacturers recommend only using a clean, damp cloth to wipe down your nasal prongs and headset tubing after each use. Make sure you use clean water and a new cloth every time
- Alcohol wipe: Many health professionals recommend using an alcohol wipe to wipe down your nasal cannula after each use. This helps to kill bacteria on the nasal prongs and headset, and can be particularly advantageous if you are sick. However, be aware that some manufacturers specifically warn against using alcohol as it can harden the plastic tubing
If you are unsure which daily cleaning method to use with your nasal cannula, contact your manufacturer or oxygen equipment provider for more information.
2. Thoroughly clean your nasal cannula once per week
You will learn more about when to replace your nasal cannula below, but in between replacements, it is important to keep your nasal cannula clean. Since your nasal cannula sits inside your nostrils, bacteria can build up inside the tubes over time. If left unchecked, that bacteria could cause an infection in your nose or your respiratory system. To avoid this, clean your nasal cannula well each week to keep your cannula free of bacteria. As suggested before, you should follow any specific directions provided by the manufacturer with your nasal cannula. However, the guidelines below can also be used for your weekly cleaning to keep your nasal cannula as clean and free of bacteria as possible.
Once per week, thoroughly clean and disinfect your nasal cannula by soaking the tubing in warm, soapy water. Any mild dish soap works fine for cleaning your cannula, but avoid strong or scented detergents or lotion soaps. Follow the soak with a vinegar rinse using ten parts water to one part white vinegar, which will kill bacteria without degrading the plastic tubing material. Give your nasal cannula a final rinse in cold water to flush out any remaining soap or bacteria, then allow it to dry.
3. Change your nasal cannula every one to three weeks
The more frequently you use your supplemental oxygen therapy, the more frequently you will need to change out your nasal cannula. Talk to your oxygen provider about how often they recommend you change out your cannula with your oxygen therapy schedule, but frequent users should be prepared to change their nasal cannula every one to two weeks. Additionally, any time you have been sick, it is recommended that you not only clean your nasal cannula more frequently, but that you also change your cannula once per week in order to avoid reinfection or the extension of your illness. Continue changing your nasal cannula weekly for the few weeks following any illness as well to help ensure you recover thoroughly. If your cannula becomes discolored, stiff or clearly soiled, replace it right away. Never use any nasal cannula for more than 30 days.
Because you will be changing your cannula fairly often, and potentially more often than expected if you come down with something, it is highly recommended that you keep several spare nasal cannulas on hand. This way, you ensure that you are prepared when it is time to change out the old cannula for a fresh one. You may even want to consider ordering your nasal cannulas in bulk to save yourself both time and money.
4. Ensure you have the right kind of nasal cannula for your flow rate
Each type of nasal cannula has a maximum flow rate, so it is important to use the type recommended for your prescribed flow rate. A standard nasal cannula has a maximum flow rate of six liters per minute, while higher flow nasal cannulas are able to provide up to 15 liters per minute. Some high flow nasal cannulas are even capable of providing up to 40 liters per minute, though that is generally well above most patients’ recommended flow rate. Make sure you have the recommended length of cannula tubing as well to ensure you receive the proper saturation.
Your doctor will prescribe the correct oxygen flow rate for your needs, and will help guide you to the right kind of nasal cannula for you. Your oxygen provider can also help ensure that you are using the correct type of nasal cannula for both your flow rate and your oxygen delivery system.
5. Make sure that your nasal cannula fits you properly
A nasal cannula that fits properly is easily inserted into your nostrils as far as it will go, where it rests comfortably inside your nostrils with a snug fit. If your nasal cannula does not fit you well, you will likely find it very uncomfortable or it may slip out of your nose. If you are experiencing discomfort, chafing, pinching or irritation, or if your cannula will not stay put and simply falls out, your nasal cannula is probably the wrong size. In order to find the right size and fit, you can begin with the nasal cannula sizing charts available online. Additionally, you can go directly to your oxygen provider or the manufacturer of the nasal cannula you are having difficulty with troubleshooting your particular issues. They can help you ascertain if you need a different length of prong, different style of prong or softer and more flexible tubing.
Once you have found the correct size and your nasal cannula sits inside your nostrils comfortably, make sure you are wearing the tubing correctly. The tubes should sit over your ears, just like glasses. Then, the tubing should run from behind your ears, against your jaw to your chin, where you can adjust the fit with the slider to make sure it is snug, but not too tight. You should be able to fit two fingers between the tubes and your chin. If your nasal cannula is still causing irritation or feeling uncomfortable, try one of the following:
- Fit it closer: Try adjusting the slider so the tubing is just a touch tighter and sits higher on your cheeks. This may stop the tubing from moving around as much and therefore reduce the friction
- Use medical tape: Fabric medical tape can be used between the tubing and your skin to reduce friction, or you can tape the tubing in place
- Change the orientation: Try changing the way you wear your nasal cannula. Rather than looping over your ears, the tubes can go from your nostrils to behind your head, then down toward the back of your neck, where you can adjust the slider at the base of your neck
- Look into fabric nasal cannula covers: If you are still struggling with discomfort, fabric cannula covers are available to help improve comfort.
Learning how to take care of your nasal cannula and keep it clean, comfortable and in good shape is essential to making a nasal cannula as easy to use as possible. There is a learning curve at the beginning, but you will get used to cleaning, caring for and adjusting your cannula. Most importantly, remember that you are not alone in this process. Your health care team, oxygen service provider, and nasal cannula manufacturer can all help you along the way. Never hesitate to ask questions so you feel as comfortable and confident as possible with your nasal cannula and accompanying equipment.
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