How to Clean a Nasal Cannula

Female patient with nasal cannula
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Patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, often need supplemental oxygen therapy which is typically delivered through a tube with two open prongs that sit under your nose, known as a nasal cannula.

Because of the nature of where the prongs of the nasal cannula sit (in the nares), they get soiled quite regularly.

While there is little clinical evidence supporting the claim that a soiled nasal cannula can lead to lung infections like pneumonia, the American Lung Association recommends changing your nasal cannula fairly often, especially when the prongs become soiled or uncomfortable.

The term "fairly often," however, is quite subjective, and what one person believes to be "fairly often" can differ greatly from another. That said, most manufacturers advise that patients change their nasal cannulas once a week for regular daily use or up to a month for sporadic use.

You can prolong the life of your cannula by taking proper care of it and washing it regularly. The biggest danger in not changing or washing your cannula on a regular basis is the buildup of bacteria, which may lead to infection.

Daily Cannula Maintenance

If you have COPD and are on daily supplemental oxygen therapy, you should follow the instructions provided by your healthcare team for cleaning and maintaining your nasal cannula. There are some basic guidelines you should know.

To prevent bacteria buildup, you need to clean the cannula with an alcohol wipe or swab after each use. If you use oxygen continuously, take a break to disinfect the cannula at least once or twice a day, more if you are congested. Getting sick can be very dangerous for people with COPD, so you need to be vigilant about using alcohol to kill any bacteria.

Cleaning Your Nasal Cannula

Many COPD patients opt to clean the nasal cannula to prolong its use. To do this, soak the tubing in warm water with a small amount of dish soap and white vinegar, which is a good bacteria killer that won’t eat away at the cannula.

Once you have thoroughly washed the cannula, rinse it well in cold water to be sure all of the soap and bacteria have been removed. Hang the cannula to dry before using it again.

Changing the Cannula

While manufacturers recommend changing your cannula between once a week and once a month, the most important factor in deciding when to change your cannula is your health. You must change the cannula any time that you have been sick or may be coming down with something, to keep bacteria in check.

Be sure to keep extra supplies on hand, so you can change the cannula whenever necessary. Make sure you take stock of your supplies and order more long before you run out.

As always, follow your doctor’s instructions for how often you should change your nasal cannula and the proper care and maintenance of your equipment.

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