Supplemental oxygen therapy is an amazing, enabling, and life-saving tool that many people with COPD use every day. However, while it can significantly improve how you feel and help you live a better quality of life, supplemental oxygen often comes with its own uncomfortable side-effects and inconveniences.
For example, most patients at some point have problems with ear pain from the ear loops of their nasal cannula. Many patients also struggle to manage their oxygen therapy when they're out of the house, struggling to tote around their equipment and worrying about running out of oxygen before they get home.
Some other common problems that oxygen patients have include dryness and inflammation, which often happens when the constant stream of air through your oxygen delivery device dries out your throat and nasal passages. Another uncomfortable side-effect is skin irritation, which is common on areas of the the face where equipment and tubing touches the skin.
For many reasons, oxygen therapy can be a difficult thing to integrate into your everyday life, especially in the beginning. However, once you work out all the kinks and learn all the little tips and tricks that other oxygen patients have figured out along the way, you'll realize that there are plenty of ways to improve your oxygen therapy experience.
In this article, we're going to help you solve these common problems by showing you how to make your oxygen therapy more comfortable in every way possible. We'll show you how to reduce the overall hassle of using supplemental oxygen and get rid of ailments like ear pain, nasal dryness, and skin irritation that many oxygen patients struggle with every day.
Although you can use ear protectors for oxygen tubing or ear pads for oxygen tubing, there is a lot more you can do to make your oxygen therapy experience more comfortable. We'll discuss a variety of simple, practical solutions ranging from recommendations for over-the-counter moisturizing products to tips for keeping your extension tubing out of the way. We'll also show you how to reduce the hassle of lugging portable oxygen tanks around with you everywhere you go, and how to make using oxygen outside your home more convenient and comfortable than ever.
Tips and Tricks to Make Your Nasal Cannula or Oxygen Mask More Comfortable
One of the most common sources of discomfort for people who use supplemental oxygen are oxygen masks and nasal cannulae. You have to wear both of these oxygen delivery devices on your face, which can sometimes be uncomfortable and get in the way of daily living.
Here are some of the most common problems that oxygen patients have with nasal cannulae and oxygen masks:
- Nasal dryness and nosebleeds
- Ear pressure and pain
- Skin irritation
- Tubing getting snagged, twisted, and pulled
- Excess moisture and condensation
Chances are, if you are on oxygen, you've experienced at least a few of these issues on occasion. If you use oxygen continuously, you might struggle with these problems a lot, which can take a significant toll on how you feel and how you live.
However, with the right equipment and accessories, and a bit of creative problem solving, you can significantly reduce or eliminate the frustration and discomfort of using oxygen with a nasal cannula or oxygen mask. In the next sections, we're going to address each of these ailments and show you a variety of tricks and simple solutions you can use today to make your oxygen therapy more comfortable and learn how to prevent cannula marks on the face.
Nasal Dryness and Nosebleeds
Many people struggle with dry nasal passages or get nosebleeds from using oxygen, especially those who use oxygen continuously or use a high oxygen flow rate. There multiple ways to address this symptom, and most patients are able to find significant relief with a combination of just a few simple techniques.
Besides feeling dry, other symptoms of nasal dryness include increased mucus production, thick or crusty mucus, or mucus that's streaked with red when you blow your nose. These are very common side-effects of oxygen therapy, but you can manage and minimize them using the tools and techniques we discuss in the following sections.
Most oxygen patients experience nasal dryness occasionally, but you should talk to your doctor if it is very severe or if you are unable to manage it on your own. Left untreated, nasal dryness can worsen COPD symptoms and make you more susceptible to getting sick.
Get an Oxygen Humidifier
If you struggle with nasal dryness or experience nosebleeds as a result of your oxygen therapy, talk to your doctor about getting a humidifier bottle with your oxygen delivery device. All you have to do is fill the bottle up with distilled water (not from the tap), hook it up to your tubing, and it will add moisture to the air passing through so that it's more humid by the time it makes it up to your nasal cannula or oxygen mask.
This is often a very effective way to reducing nasal dryness and can make the air that comes from your oxygen supply more comfortable to breathe. They are also cheap and simple to take care of; just rinse your bottle out daily daily rinses and give it a weekly wash with warm water, soap, and vinegar, just like you do for your nasal cannula.
Get a Home Humidifier
If it's wintertime or the air in your house is dry, you might also benefit from getting a humidifier for your home. You can use single-room humidifiers to moisturize the air in small spaces, or you can invest house humidifier for your HVAC system if you want to go all in.
Even just putting a small humidifier in your bedroom at night can make a huge difference, reducing how dry your skin and nose feels and even reducing your chance of nosebleeds. Especially if you live in a climate with low humidity, a humidifier can help you feel much more comfortable every day, and especially when you use oxygen.
For most people, a humidity level of around forty percent is considered ideal for breathing and comfort. However, some people prefer more or less humidity, and you can adjust your humidifier at home according to your personal taste.
Lubricating Jelly and Nasal Gel
Even if you use a humidifier for your oxygen delivery system and your home, you may still experience nasal dryness on occasion. When this happens, you can use other moisturizing products, like lubricating gels and jellies, that are available over the counter at most superstores and pharmacies.
Nasal gels and jellies are topical lubricating substances that you can apply to the skin inside and underneath your nose. They help seal in moisture in your nasal passage and can reduce friction and soreness caused by the prongs of your nasal cannula.
All you have to do is wash your hands and use your finger or a cotton swab to apply a thin layer of lubricant to the skin just inside your nostrils. You may need to blow your nose after or use a clean towel to remove excess product afterward.
However, don't forget that you should not use petroleum products on your skin if you're going to be using supplemental oxygen, especially on or near your face. Petroleum is very flammable, and when combined with purified oxygen, it becomes even more flammable, raising the risk of serious burns to your face should a fire ignite. Because of this, you should always look for non-petroleum, water-based lubricants instead.
Popular brands of non-petroleum nasal gels include Nasogel, Ayr, and RoEzIt; some patients find that aloe vera works great as well. If you're having trouble finding a gel or have any questions about what nasal lubricant is safe with oxygen, talk to your doctor and ask what products he recommends for you.
Saline Nasal Sprays
Using a saline nasal spray is another effective over-the-counter solution for nasal dryness and soreness caused by oxygen therapy. These products contain a simple solution of water and salt that can be surprisingly effective at soothing and lubricating dry nasal passages.
Note that you should use a spray with a plain saline solution, not the medicated sprays that are often advertised for stuffy noses and colds. Salt water on its own is plenty effective and can be used several times a day, while medicated sprays must be used sparingly and can cause serious side-effects and dependence.
Along with reducing pain and discomfort, moisturizing your nasal passages with a saline spray can also reduce your risk of illnesses and infections. Nasal dryness makes your mucus thick and sticky, raising the risk of trapping harmful bacteria in your airways.
It can also cause the delicate skin in your nose to get dry and cracked, which can make you more likely to get sick. The cracks act like sanctuaries for bacteria, allowing them to multiply and giving them an opportunity to infect your body.
Reducing Skin Dryness and Irritation
Another common problem that patients have with oxygen therapy is dry and irritated patches of skin. Problem areas tend to be the lips, the skin under the nose, and other areas of the face that are near or in contact with your nasal cannula, oxygen, mask, or tubing.
This can be the result of rubbing, chaffing, or the constant flow of air drying out your skin. When you use oxygen continuously, the dryness and irritation doesn't have time to heal, and it will only get worse and worse with time if you don't do something about it.
Luckily, there are plenty of simple solutions for dryness and irritation that can help your skin heal and reduce the chances of future inflammation. In the following sections, we'll discuss a variety of tried-and-true products and techniques that many oxygen patients use to treat skin irritation and make oxygen therapy much easier to deal with.
Use Water-Based Moisturizers on Your Face & Lips
Many of the same moisturizers that you'd use to treat nasal dryness can be used to reduce irritation and chaffing on your skin. Any kind of moisturizing gel or cream can work as long as it's water-based and doesn't contain oils.
Moisturizer can reduce friction and inflammation on any areas of your skin that your head straps, tubing, or other equipment tends to rub against. It's also great for both treating and preventing dry patches that happen as a result of dry air or skin irritation.
Using oxygen can also cause your lips to get chapped, especially if you use an oxygen mask instead of a nasal cannula. You might think the best fix for this is lip balm, but most lip balm brands, including Vaseline, Chapstick, and Blistex, contain petroleum or other oils which can be dangerous to use with oxygen.
Instead, you can use the same water-based lubricants you'd use elsewhere on your skin, like RoEzIt or Vitamin E. You can also find petroleum-free, water-based lip balms from many online retailers that have skin and beauty products for sale.
Many oxygen patients experience discomfort and soreness from tubing, straps, or the edges of their oxygen mask pressing against their skin. In addition to using moisturizers to lubricate the places where the equipment touches your skin, you can use foam and fabric padding to soften the sore points.
There are a variety of different kinds of soft pads and fabric covers you can get to make oxygen masks and nasal cannulae more comfortable to wear. You can find dozens of different options designed to pad all the different areas of your face and head that are prone to experiencing pressure, friction, and discomfort.
For nasal cannulae, you can get small cheek pads to put under the parts of the tubing that stretch across your cheeks. You can also get padding that reduces pain and pressure on your ears, which bear the weight of holding your cannula in place.
For oxygen masks, you can get rubber pads and soft gel pads to soften the point where the mask rests on the bridge of your nose—a common sore point for patients who use masks. You can also get padding and fabric covers for the forehead strap and for straps that go behind your head.
Another common issue with oxygen masks are the lower straps that stretch across your cheeks, which can leave visible red marks and indentations that last for awhile after you take the mask off. To solve this problem, you can buy padded fabric covers designed to reduce the pressure of the strap on your skin, which helps eliminate red marks on your face.
Adding some padding and strap covers can make your mask much more comfortable to wear, especially if you use oxygen continuously or at night. Just make sure you remember to remove and clean any pads or covers your use often with warm soap and water, and replace the padding regularly as the manufacturer recommends. You can also try investing in an extra soft nasal cannula.
Cover Your Tubing
Wrapping the tubing in fabric or foam is a common and very effective solution for skin troubles caused by the friction of a nasal cannula sitting against your face. The constant contact and occasional rubbing can cause soreness and skin irritation over time, which can make oxygen therapy very uncomfortable.
Some people are able to solve this problem simply by finding an oxygen cannula type made with a softer tubing. However, if it doesn't work or you don't have a softer cannula available, then wrapping the tubing in fabric is often the next best option.
There are many different types of fabric tubing covers that you can buy, or you can even make your own if you're handy with a needle and thread. However, the simplest quick solution is to wrap the tubing yourself with fabric first-aid tape, which is cheap, readily available, and easy to use.
To wrap your tubing yourself, get some rolls of white, fabric, self-sticking first-aid tape from your local department store or pharmacy. Then, carefully wrap it all around both sides of your nasal cannula, completely covering the tubing from the prongs to your ears. You can double-wrap it if a single wrap isn't soft-enough, or to reinforce parts of the tubing that cause the most irritation.
However, it's important to remember to keep your tubing covers clean and replace them on a regular basis. If you use a fabric cover, make sure you remove and clean them often. If you covered your tubing in first-aid tape, you should remove and dispose of the tape at least once a week and replace it with fresh tape.
Check Your Fit
Sometimes, skin irritation is a sign that your oxygen mask or nasal cannula isn't fitting you properly. If it's too tight, too big, or sits too loosely on your face, it can cause unnecessary friction and chaffing.
If you are having chronic problems with soreness or irritation, talk to your doctor or your oxygen supply company about getting a new nasal cannula or oxygen mask. You might need to try a different size, a different design, or a different brand in order to find one that fits your face more comfortably.
If you use a nasal cannula, you may also need to try a mask with softer tubing or different prongs. Different cannulas have prongs with slightly different shapes, lengths, and orientations, and which one feels right to you is a matter of personal comfort. Many oxygen patients find that their oxygen therapy is much easier to tolerate once they find a cannula that's the right shape and softness for their face.
Tips for Managing Moisture & Condensation
Some patients struggle with moisture and condensation collecting inside of their oxygen mask or nasal cannula, which can be uncomfortable and make it more difficult to breathe. Excess moisture can also help breed bacteria, which is why you should always try to keep your mask or nasal cannula as clean and dry as possible.
Whenever you notice moisture on the inside of your mask, take it off for a moment and wipe it down with a clean, dry cloth. You should also wash your mask often with warm water and soap at least once a week to remove any mucus, bacteria, or other foreign substances from your mask (but make sure you check the cleaning instructions for your specific mask, first).
Reducing Moisture and Condensation in Your Tubing
Most oxygen patients at some point experience “rain out,” which happens when a lot of condensation forms and collects in your tubing. This tends to be a problem when the humidity is too high or when the outside air is too cold.
For example, if you're using oxygen with a humidifier in a cold room, the tubing gets cooled down by the cold outside air. This can cause the moisture to condense out of the air flowing through the tube, causing water droplets to form in your nasal cannula, oxygen mask, and extension tubing.
This can make it difficult to breathe or cause you to get water in your nose and mouth when you breathe in. It also creates a moist environment that bacteria and mold could grow in if it stays too damp for too long.
To solve this problem, you can turn your oxygen humidifier down to reduce the amount of moisture in the tubing. You can also get a piece of equipment called an inline water trap, a special piece of tubing that attaches to your extension tubing and is meant to catch condensation before it makes it into your nasal cannula or mask.
You can also turn up the heat on your furnace to raise the temperature in the room, which prevents the tubing from getting too cold and causing the moisture inside to condense. Another way to warm up your tubing is to run it underneath a blanket or wrap it in a fabric cover to keep it warm.
If none of these other solutions work, you may need to turn off your humidifier completely to keep the condensation at bay. Once you're in a better environment that won't cause rain out, you can use your oxygen humidifier again.
Reducing Ear Pain and Pressure
Ear pain and pressure is another extremely common problem that patients have with supplemental oxygen therapy. It happens because nasal cannulae are held up by looping over your ears, and the weight creates pressure that can be extremely uncomfortable. If you have to wear a nasal cannula every day for an extended period of time, it can be especially painful and difficult to manage.
Luckily, since it's such a common issue, there are several effective techniques and products available for reducing ear pain and discomfort with oxygen therapy. There are a variety of different types of padding, connectors, specialized nasal cannulae, and more that can make nasal cannulae much more comfortable to wear.
Foam ear cushions are often the first line of defense against ear soreness. You can get all sorts of different kinds; some go in-between the nasal cannula loops and the tops of your ears, and some wrap around the part of the tubing the goes over your ears.
These cushions help by absorbing some of the pressure that the weight of the cannula puts on your ears, reducing pain and making it much more comfortable to wear. You can find ear cushions in all sorts of different sizes, shapes, and materials, and what works for you depends on your sensitivity and the contours of your face. You may even need to try a few different kinds before you find a cushion that fits well and provides enough relief.
Clip Tubing to Your Clothes
Another strategy to reduce ear pressure and pain is to clip your extension tubing to your clothes. This prevents the tubing from tugging on your ears if it gets snagged, yanked, or pulled, which can be very painful and unpleasant if you don't have a clip.
By attaching the tubing to your shirt, belt, or waistband, the clip secures it in place so that anytime the tubing moves around or gets tugged, it pulls on your clothes instead of your ears. It also helps keep your tubing secured so it doesn't hang loose and get in your way as you go about daily activities.
Some patients find it more convenient to clip their tubing to their back instead of the front of their clothes. This helps reduce the weight of the tubing (since it doesn't hang down as much), makes it more discrete, and keeps it completely out of the way in the front, reducing the chance of snags and pulling.
Get a Swivel Connector
Along the same vein, swivel connectors can reduce the amount of pulling on your ears by giving your tubing and equipment more flexibility. They prevent twists and tangles that are not only annoying, but put extra weight and pressure on your ears.
Swivel connectors create a joint in-between different sections of tubing that allows it to pivot instead of getting twisted and torqued. It can be especially helpful if you use nighttime oxygen and move around a lot in your sleep.
Specialized Nasal Cannula
There are a variety of specialized nasal cannulae that are designed specifically to reduce ear pain and pressure. Some are simply made with softer tubing that's easier on the tops of your ears, while others are completely re-designed to be more comfortable.
Nasal cannulae with extra-soft tubing are relatively inexpensive and easy to find, and they can make a big difference in the amount of ear pressure and skin irritation you experience. Often, a combination of soft tubing and ear cushions eliminates most problems and makes nasal cannulae significantly more comfortable to wear.
Other specialized nasal cannulae include products like the Oxy-Breather and OxyView. The Oxy-Breather is a single-sided cannula that sits on one ear, and, according to patients who have used the product, it is much gentler and causes much less pressure on your ear.
The OxyView is another special kind of cannula that is just like a pair of glasses that have a nasal cannula attached. The nasal prongs come down from the nose bridge and the tubing runs along the glasses frames, making the tubing less visible and easier to manage.
Some specialized cannulae can be pricey, especially considering the fact that you have to replace them on a regular basis. However, trying some different brands with varying designs and tube softness may help you find a product that makes oxygen therapy much more manageable and has a noticeable effect on your quality of life.
Using Oxygen On-the-Go
Using oxygen at home is relatively simple. You have all of your equipment there at the ready and the most work you have to put into transporting your oxygen source is wheeling it from room to room.
But when you leave the comfort of your own house, continuing oxygen therapy can be a huge hassle and pain. Without some planning and preparation, lugging all of your equipment around town can be an exhausting, unwieldy nightmare. And you may wonder how you can keep your nasal cannula in place while on the move.
In this next section, we're going to show you how to take your oxygen equipment with you outside the house with less worry and frustration. We'll introduce you to the different types of portable oxygen, how to transport them conveniently, and show you a variety of different bags, carts, and other products you can use to more comfortably tote your oxygen source around.
Portable Oxygen Options
To make oxygen therapy more manageable outside of the home, there are a variety of portable oxygen solutions you can use. These options include small, portable liquid oxygen tanks, compressed gas oxygen cylinders, and battery operated portable oxygen concentrators.
Small liquid tanks can be filled from your reservoir at home, while portable compressed gas tanks are often brought pre-filled from your medical oxygen supplier. To use a portable oxygen concentrator, you just have to make sure your batteries are charged and you're good to take your concentrator just about anywhere you go.
Always Have a Portable Oxygen Supply Ready
You never know when you might need to rush out or leave your home for an emergency. This can be very dangerous if you don't have a portable supply of oxygen at the ready.
If you use oxygen continuously, it's important to never leave home without oxygen. When you use portable oxygen, it's also important to know how much oxygen you have left in your portable liquid or gas tank before you depend on it outside of your home.
Your oxygen supplier should provide you with enough portable tanks to last you for hours outside the home based on the amount of oxygen you typically use. However, you will need to refill or replace these tanks every time you get home to prepare for future outings.
If you use a personal portable oxygen concentrator as your primary portable oxygen source, you will need to make sure its batteries are charged before you leave the house. It's a good idea to keep extra batteries at home so you can make sure that one set is always fully charged.
Even if you don't use oxygen continuously, you should keep a portable source of oxygen with you whenever you go out in case of emergencies. You might end up needing to use supplemental oxygen if, for example, your symptoms flare up, you have to exert yourself, or you are exposed to respiratory irritants or allergens.
Always Bring Extra
No matter how sure you are that you're only going to be gone for a certain amount of time, it's best to err on the side of caution when it comes to portable oxygen. Because of this, you should always take a little more oxygen with you than you think you're going to need.
If something happens that makes you have to stay out longer, you will appreciate the fact you had the forethought to bring extra oxygen along. It's better have extra oxygen that you don't need than to be caught away from home without the oxygen you need to breathe.
For portable oxygen tanks, this means bringing extra tanks or a larger tank that holds more than you think you will use. For portable oxygen concentrators, that means bringing extra batteries and a charger so you can switch depleted batteries out for fresh ones whenever your machine runs out of charge.
Find a Comfortable Bag or Cart for Transporting Your Oxygen Supply
When you rely on supplemental oxygen as part of your everyday life, it's important to find a transport method that's comfortable and convenient. It makes oxygen therapy much less stressful and gives you more freedom outside of the home.
Using reliable carts and containers to transport your oxygen allows you to focus more on your activities and less on managing your oxygen equipment. With the right kind of cart or bag, you should be able to go about your life outside your home gracefully with your oxygen supply in tow.
If you use liquid or gas oxygen tanks as your primary mode of portable oxygen, then you will need an oxygen canister cart to safely take it along whenever you are out. Oxygen carts are designed specifically for wheeling oxygen canisters around and are one of the only safe, secure ways to transport portable oxygen tanks.
Carts keep your oxygen canister upright and fastened in tightly so you don't have to worry about it falling or getting knocked over. You can get differently sized carts for different tank sizes, and some carts are even designed to carry two or more tanks at once.
Bags & Backpacks
Portable oxygen concentrators (POC's) are small, light, and have a uniquely compact shape that makes them generally much easier to transport when you're out and about. However, some of the larger models are too heavy or bulky to to carry without a cart, especially for those with severe symptoms and advanced COPD.
You can find portable oxygen concentrator carrying cases in several styles, although your options will vary based on the specific model of POC you use. Most of the smaller devices have at least one matching shoulder bag and backpack available as an accessory, and some even have optional comfort straps with extra padding for your shoulders and back.
And, unlike portable oxygen tanks, which have to be secured and well-ventilated at all times, portable oxygen concentrator machines are much easier to transport when not in use. As long as your POC is completely powered off, you should never have to worry about an accidental leak.
Oxygen therapy is a positive, life-changing tool for many people with COPD. It can set you free from the bounds of your disease and reduce uncomfortable COPD symptoms, like shortness of breath and low oxygen headaches, that get in the way of everyday life.
Oxygen therapy is also incredibly important for your health, and it's important not to let the side-effects and inconvenience of using oxygen discourage you from using it as often as you should. It's normal to experience discomfort when using oxygen, especially at first, but there are many ways to manage the negative effects.
Many people find it initially difficult to integrate supplemental oxygen therapy into everyday life, but if you give it some time and learn how to put on a nasal cannula, you'll find many ways to make it more comfortable and manageable. Soon enough, after you experiment with some different techniques and solutions like the ones on this list, you can find ways to seamlessly integrate oxygen therapy into your life.
After you've found the most comfortable nasal cannula and apply these techniques to reduce the hassle and discomfort of using oxygen, you'll feel more free and more comfortable than ever. Always stay positive and remember that oxygen is a benefit and a lifeline, not a hindrance.
Oxygen therapy can be frustrating and uncomfortable at times, but it can help you in more ways than it hurts. By helping you breathe better and feel better, it can give you the energy and confidence you need to participate in all of the wonderful activities that life has to offer.