How Long Can Your Oxygen Tubing Be?
Many people with COPD require supplemental oxygen. This requires the use of a nasal cannula and tubing. A standard recommendation is to never exceed 50 feet of tubing. So what’s the deal with this limit? Can you safely utilize more than 50 feet of tubing? Here’s what to know.
How longer oxygen tubing can help
Where I work, the standard tubing length is seven feet. You attach the nasal cannula to a patient’s face. You plug the opposite end to a flowmeter on the wall. You turn the flowmeter up to 2-3 liters per minute (LPM).
Most people with COPD only need a low flow of oxygen. So, 2-3 LPM works great for most people with COPD. However, sometimes more is needed. In either case, oxygen tubing acts as a leash and is restraining. It limits how far you can move from that source. It limits your activity. And this can negatively affect a person’s overall sense of well being.
This where extra tubing and longer tubing comes into play. In the hospital, we only have 7 feet tubing. For some people, this is not even enough to roll over in bed. We connect these together to add length. We have lots of extra 7-foot long oxygen tubing. These can be connected together using connectors. In the home setting, many oxygen providers have 50-foot tubing.
Recommended length for oxygen tubing
Home oxygen therapy was extensively studied in the 1950s and 60s. It was determined that people with COPD benefited from supplemental oxygen. Likewise, they learned most people with COPD only need 2-3 LPM. This was all that was needed to keep their oxygen levels in the safe range.
So, many people with COPD were prescribed home oxygen therapy. Some were required to wear it 24/7. This limited their ability to move about their homes. It limited their ability to stay active. So, some started adding oxygen tubing to their cannula tubing. They did this using oxygen tubing connectors. Some people added lots of extra tubing.
This got the experts to thinking: “How much tubing is too much?”
The fear was that longer tubings resulted in the loss of flow to the patient. For instance, let’s say a person has 2LPM prescribed. You dial the flowmeter up to 2LPM. Then, to increase mobility, you add extra tubing. The fear was that, the longer the tubing, the more likely this flow would be lost. For example, rather than inhaling the dialed in 2lpm, the person might be inhaling 1.5 LPM.
This is what led to the 50-foot recommendation.
Sutdy results on length of oxygen tubing
There was a study done in 2015. The researchers decided the current regulation was based on scanty evidence. So they decided to do their own study in Brazil. They tested tubing at different lengths: 20 feet, 50 feet, and 100 feet. They also tested it at different liter flows: 1 LPM, 3 LPM, and 5 LPM.1-2
The liter flows were measured at both ends of the oxygen tubing. It was measured at the source. It was also measured where it would be connected to the patients.
At 20 and 50 feet, all liter flows were the same on both ends of the tubing. So this proved that 50 feet was a safe tubing length. At 100 feet, 1 LPM and 3LPM measured the same on both ends of the tubing. But, the 5LPM measured slightly less at the patient side. However, this difference was less than 1%. This was determined to be a negligible difference.
So, the researchers made a conclusion. And that conclusion was that a tubing length of up to 100 feet was acceptable. This is true for flows up to 5LPM.1-2
Length and safety
Most experts continue to recommend a 50-foot tubing limit. This is because it usually takes a while for study results to show up in practice. However, this study proves that it’s probably safe to add more tubing if you need to. This study is your evidence should anyone question you. Thoughts?
Do you have a COPD caregiver?