Supplemental oxygen therapy is one of the most basic treatments for people with COPD, especially as the disease progresses. If you or your loved one use oxygen, you are probably aware of the safety precautions, but do you know how to care for and clean the oxygen equipment?
If not, you are not alone! Honestly, I think I’d been caring for my mother, who was on continuous supplemental oxygen, for at least a year before anyone mentioned that we should be cleaning and changing out tubing on a regular basis.
Now, as a retired nurse, you would think I should have been aware of the need to do this. However, that first year of caregiving was a rough one. My mom was in and out of the hospital 5 times in 10 months, with 2 broken hips, blood clots, pneumonia and a compression fracture of her spine. Needless to say, there were lots of things to worry about and something as seemingly mundane as caring for the oxygen tubing took a back seat to more pressing concerns.
Thankfully, one of the oxygen delivery people who came to our house regularly did finally go over the steps to cleaning and caring for the equipment. So, let me share those tips with you.
Cleaning the Nasal Cannula or Mask
Most people on supplemental oxygen use a nasal cannula, but a mask is another option. Whatever you use, you should switch out to a new cannula or mask every 2 to 4 weeks or so. Meanwhile, it’s smart to have a spare set on hand, in case of damage or wear and tear to your current equipment. You can also use the spare set while washing your current one.
It’s also a good idea to wash the nasal cannula or mask at least once a week. Wash the cannula/mask in warm, soapy water and then rinse it thoroughly with a solution of 10 parts water and one part vinegar. (Vinegar will kill any bacteria, but will not affect the plastic tubing.) Finally, rinse well with hot water and hang it to dry.
When it is dry, you can then reattach it and start using it once again. If you notice the cannula tubing becoming plugged up from mucus, you can wash it more often than weekly. You may also need to clean your cannula more frequently if you have a cold or the flu.
Caring for the Oxygen Tubing
Whether you use compressed oxygen gas, liquid oxygen or a concentrator, a long length of tubing connects the oxygen source to your nasal cannula or mask. This tubing should never be more than 25 feet long in order to get the proper dose of oxygen to your airways. You may need to relocate your tank or concentrator to a central location in your home that allows your 25-foot tubing to reach wherever needed.
Most experts suggest to replace this tubing only once every 6 to 12 months. You don’t need to clean it, but you should inspect it regularly for cracking or wear and tear. If you have pets, be sure they haven’t been chewing on the tubing.
Care & Cleaning of Humidifier Bottles
If the prescribed oxygen flow rate is 4L/min or greater, it can be very drying to the nasal passages. In these cases, a humidifier bottle attached to the oxygen delivery device can help prevent irritation.
If you’re using a humidifier bottle, you will need to clean it regularly, similarly to the nasal cannula tubing:
- Wash it with warm, soapy water.
- Next, soak it in the vinegar and water solution described above.
- Rinse with hot water and let dry.
- Refill with distilled water. (Gallon jugs can be bought cheaply at your local grocery.)
- Reattach the bottle, making sure the lid is securely screwed on.
Caring for Your Delivery Device
Oxygen can be delivered in the form of compressed air, liquid or converted from room air by a concentrator. Oxygen tanks usually do not require special care, but check with your oxygen delivery service to be sure.
Concentrators may require occasional cleaning. Wipe the outside cabinet down once a week or so with a damp cloth and mild dish soap. Never spray any kind of cleaner onto the machine.
If your concentrator has an external filter, this may need to be rinsed out weekly. Check with your oxygen company for the exact recommendations for your model. If filter cleaning is needed, it can be rinsed with warm water and mild liquid dish detergent. After that, dry the filter and inspect for fraying, crumbling, tears and holes. Replace the filter if any damage is found.
With the proper care and cleaning of your oxygen equipment, you can help prevent infection and other issues with getting the right amount of oxygen to your airways. This care should only take a few minutes a week, but can make a big difference in your quality of life.