Nasal Cannulas and Face Masks

Written by David Heitz | Published on January 21, 2014
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD, MBA on January 21, 2014

What Are Nasal Cannulas and Face Masks?

Nasal cannulas and face masks are used to deliver oxygen to people who don't otherwise get enough of it. They are commonly used to provide relief to people with respiratory disorders.

A nasal cannula consists of a flexible tube that is placed under the nose. The tube includes two prongs that go inside the nostrils.

A face mask covers the nose and mouth.

Both methods of delivery attach to oxygen sources, which come in a variety of sizes.

Nasal cannulas and simple face masks are usually used to deliver low levels of oxygen to the patient. Another type of mask called the Venturi mask delivers oxygen at higher levels. Sometimes, nasal cannulas also can be used to deliver high levels of oxygen.

Who Benefits from Nasal Cannulas and Face Masks?

Nasal cannulas and face masks are usually used to treat people who suffer from respiratory ailments. They can also be administered in hospitals for people who suffer from some form of trauma, or for people who suffer from acute conditions such as heart failure.

How Are Nasal Cannulas and Face Masks Used?

Oxygen can be administered with nasal cannulas or face masks in hospitals, clinics, or specialized care facilities. It can also be administered in a home setting or even on the go. Some devices are portable and can be slung over a person's shoulder.

Venturi masks can provide a constant, pre-set level of oxygen. They are commonly used when it is important to control a patient's carbon dioxide retention.

Nasal cannulas tend to be a primary choice for oxygen delivery. This is because they are less intrusive and allow a patient to eat and speak freely.

What Are the Benefits of Nasal Cannulas and Face Masks?

People on oxygen therapy generally have more energy and can breathe better. They also can sleep better at night.

Oxygen therapy may lengthen the lives of some people who suffer from COPD (National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, 2012).

What Are the Risks of Nasal Cannulas and Face Masks?

Patients with nasal cannulas sometimes complain of nasal dryness, particularly when receiving oxygen at high levels. New devices can help with this by adding moisture and warmth to the delivery process.

Despite its benefits, oxygen therapy does not come without risks. Several complications can develop with extended treatment, including the inability to cough up mucus. In some cases, patients may go into respiratory arrest.

Call your doctor if you notice a bluish tint to your lips or fingernails, or begin to have difficulty breathing while on supplemental oxygen.

How Do Patients Prepare for Nasal Cannulas and Face Masks?

Before ordering treatment, a doctor performs tests to measure how much oxygen you already have in your blood. He may take a sample with a needle or use a sensing device. When placed against your finger or toe, the sensing device uses light to measure the amount of oxygen in your blood. No needle is necessary.

What is the Outlook for Nasal Cannulas and Face Masks?

Oxygen therapy can improve a person's quality of life for many years. Being able to breathe easier allows a person to engage in more activities during the day, have a better night's sleep, and potentially even a longer life span.

Sometimes, supplemental oxygen is needed only during sleep or exercise. If you experience skin irritation due to the fit of the device, your doctor may be able to adjust it. Sometimes, over-the-counter ointments can help.

It is important to remember that oxygen is extremely flammable. Post “No smoking” signs in all areas where oxygen is administered. Keep other flammable items away as well, including aerosols, candles, and stoves.

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