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Face Mask Safety for People on Home Oxygen

Woman with Facemask on Chair

If you have a breathing difficulty that requires supplemental home oxygen therapy, you are likely facing new challenges because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) and the associated changes in our daily lives. With the constant changes in stay-at-home orders, social distancing requirements and face covering guidelines, it can be difficult to figure out what the right thing to do is for you. For people with COPD and other chronic breathing conditions, figuring out how to wear a face covering in conjunction with a nasal cannula can be a particular challenge. 

Let’s take a look at how the new face mask and face covering guidelines and requirements impact people using home oxygen and portable oxygen therapy. 

When You Should Wear a Face Mask with Home O2

Over the course of the spread of the novel coronavirus across the globe, the CDC has changed its recommendations, now recommending that everyone wear cloth face coverings when leaving their homes, regardless of whether or not they have any symptoms of COVID-19.[1] It is also important to note that the CDC does not recommend medical face masks for the general public, as they should be reserved for the medical community. While the CDC does caution about being careful with face coverings for people who have trouble breathing, many areas of the country are specifically requiring them in public spaces.[2] This means that, like it or not, most of us have to get used to wearing a face covering whenever we venture outside of our homes. For the time being, trips to the grocery store, the pharmacy or the gas station will mean donning a cloth face mask. 

So why is it important to wear a cloth face mask? Wearing a non-medical face mask helps prevent you from spreading any illness. It is important to remember that even if you are feeling well, you could be asymptomatic and spread an illness like the novel coronavirus to someone else. Additionally, wearing it may also provide some protection for you from other people who have the virus.[1] The more people that wear masks in public, the better protected everyone is from infection. Beyond that, the COPD Foundation points out that wearing a mask can be a helpful reminder not to touch your face when you are out in public, particularly for people using oxygen.[3] This can help further protect you from potential infection. Above and beyond the need to wear a mask during the pandemic, it can also help protect your sensitive airways from pollution, allergens and other irritants, as well as protecting you from bronchospasms resulting from cold, dry air in the winter.[5]  

Tips for Wearing a Face Mask When You Use Oxygen Therapy

Because the CDC recommends wearing a face covering when outside or in public spaces during the coronavirus pandemic, and many states and cities require it, it is important to do so. However, for people who use oxygen therapy, wearing a face covering is not as simple as it seems. Oxygen therapy requires using a nasal cannula for most people, and figuring out how to wear a face mask over a nasal cannula can be tricky. Moreover, for people with breathing conditions, wearing a face mask can make it feel harder to breathe. On the other hand, people with lung conditions are at a higher risk of complications if they contract COVID-19, as well as being more likely to have to cough while out in public, so it is extremely important for them to wear a face mask.

So, if you have a lung condition and find face masks difficult or uncomfortable to wear, what should you do? There are a few things you can do to make wearing a face covering easier and more comfortable when you have to leave your home, even during your oxygen therapy treatments. Additionally, there are a few things you should do to ensure that you are putting on, wearing and removing your face mask safely. The following tips can help you with wearing a face mask during oxygen therapy. 

 

  • Try out several different face coverings: If possible, it can be helpful to try several different kinds of face masks to see which works best for you. Make sure your face mask covers both your nose and mouth, and is made from a breathable fabric, like 100% cotton, percale or denim.[2] If you are unable to find a pre-made fabric mask that works for you, try making one of your own following the suggestions provided by the CDC.[4]

 

  • Practice wearing your face mask at home: Wearing a face covering takes some getting used to, particularly when you are learning how to wear it over a nasal cannula. Practice wearing your mask at home first so you can get a good fit and learn how to adjust both your mask and your cannula so everything is as comfortable as possible.[5]  Make sure you know how to get a secure fit so you will not be tempted to adjust it while outside your home.
  • Always have a mask on hand: It is helpful to keep a mask with you anytime you answer the door or go outside for a walk, in case you are unable to maintain safe social distancing. Keep a clean mask by your door and in your bag or pocket (inside a clean paper bag) when you step outside, just in case.
  • Have more than one mask: You will want to make sure you have several masks, in case one is in the wash or needs to be cleaned. This way, you are less likely to be caught unprepared.
  • Remember to clean your cannula and tubing: The novel coronavirus can live on plastic for up to 72 hours, so the plastic tubing on your nasal cannula and your tubing could become sources of infection.[6][7] After you get home from any location outside your front door, clean your tubing carefully with an alcohol wipe or dish soap and warm water.
  • Be vigilant about washing your hands before and after touching your mask: In order to avoid infecting others or becoming infected, wash your hands carefully before putting your mask on, and wash your hands every time you touch your mask, including when you take it off. Use soap and warm water for 20 seconds when possible, but hand sanitizer is also acceptable.[1]
  • Wash your mask promptly: Once you get home, wash your hands, then take your mask off by the ear or head straps, then place it directly in the laundry. You should wash your mask at least once a day, or immediately if it becomes soiled, dirty or someone has coughed or sneezed on you.[1]
  • Carry a clean paper bag with you in case you must remove your mask: If you have to remove your mask for any reason while you are outside your home, carry a small, clean paper bag with you to place your mask in. Never place your mask on any surface outside your home that has not been cleaned and dried.[1]
  • Try not to linger: Make any necessary trips outside your home as fast as possible. This not only reduces the amount of potential exposure time, but it also reduces the likelihood that you will end up accidentally touching your mask or face without washing your hands first.  

 

 

Ensuring Your Face Mask Fits When You Use Home Oxygen Therapy

In order for your face mask to provide adequate protection, you need to make sure you wear it properly. If your face covering fits poorly, or if you wear it incorrectly, you will not be protected. Here is how to make sure your mask fits as it should, stays safely on and does not impair your supplemental oxygen supply.[8] 

 

  • Wear a mask with a stiff, bendable edge for best fit: Many cloth masks are made with a bendable wire or other material to help you get the closest fit possible around your nose. This not only helps ensure a comfortable fit, but also helps to keep your mask in place so you do not have to adjust it.

 

  • Make sure your mask covers your nose, mouth and chin: Your mask should cover your nose, mouth and chin comfortably without gaps on the side or top, but should not feel tight. You want a close fit, with enough room for your nasal cannula to fit comfortably.
  • Once your mask is on, do not touch it: This takes some practice, but once you leave your home, do not touch your mask or cannula if at all possible. If you must touch either your mask or your cannula, wash your hands first.
  • Remove your mask from the ears: When you get home, wash your hands and then remove your mask by pulling the straps off from behind your ears or untying the straps behind your head. Try to avoid touching the outside of the mask itself or your face. Put your mask directly in the laundry, then wash your hands thoroughly.

 

 

If you are struggling with comfortably wearing a mask with your supplemental oxygen, try wearing a bandana over it. This may feel more breathable to you, since it remains loose at the bottom, and it will not impair your tubing at all. Just be sure that it fits securely, but not too tight.[5] And, of course, when all else fails, it is safest to stay home. 

For more information about COVID-19 and home oxygen, see our COVID-19 and Oxygen Concentrator FAQs.

Sources

[1] “Important Information About Your Cloth Face Coverings.” Center for Disease Control, Department of Health and Human Services, 4 May 2020, https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/downloads/cloth-face-coverings-information.pdf.

[2] Conner, Katie. “Face Masks in Cars, Stores, Outside: Places You’re Expected to Wear a Covering.” CNET, CNET, 11 May 2020, www.cnet.com/health/face-masks-in-cars-stores-outside-places-youre-expected-to-wear-a-covering/.

[3] Sullivan, Jamie. “A Coronavirus Update for the COPD Community.” COPD Foundation, COPD Foundation, 21 May 2020, www.copdfoundation.org/COPD360social/Community/COPD-Digest/Article/1553/A-Coronavirus-Update-for-the-COPD-Community.aspx.

[4] “Use Cloth Face Coverings to Help Slow Spread.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 13 Apr. 2020, www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/diy-cloth-face-coverings.html.

[5] Brody, Barbara. “Have Difficulty Breathing in a Face Mask? Advice for People with Asthma and Lung Disease.” CreakyJoints, Global Healthy Living Foundation, 14 May 2020, creakyjoints.org/living-with-arthritis/coronavirus/managing-symptoms/difficulty-breathing-face-mask-asthma-lung-disease/.

[6] Haelle, Tara. “Everything You Need To Know About Wearing Masks-Until The CDC Tells Us More.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 9 Apr. 2020, www.forbes.com/sites/tarahaelle/2020/04/07/everything-you-need-to-know-about-wearing-masks-until-the-cdc-tells-us-more/#21076a084bdb.

[7] “COVID-19 Basics.” Harvard Health, Harvard Health Publishing, Accessed 21 May 2020, www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/covid-19-basics.

[8] “When and How to Use Masks.” World Health Organization, World Health Organization, Accessed 21 May 2020, www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/advice-for-public/when-and-how-to-use-masks.

6 thoughts on “Face Mask Safety for People on Home Oxygen”

  1. Avatar Andy Howarth says:

    I find myself pulling my mask off of my nose,but keeping it over my mouth,I find it very hard to breath through my nose and having a mask over my nose also.
    This is just a through

  2. Avatar Merrily Tharp says:

    I’m in the house all of the time now I don’t have a car I depend on other people to get my things, they sometimes don’t get the right things but I’m thankful anyway. I not the same as going out for the day and shopping. What a fantastic thing to have this inogen to self shop hopping this we’ll be heavenly. Merrily NJ

  3. Avatar J Taylor says:

    My nose runs profusely when I put a mask over my oxygen and and does a lot of the time when I am on my oxygen so I need to wipe my nose as there is discharge running down my face and chin…not any way to avoid touching my face or nose. problem…washing hands right after really not practical.

  4. Avatar Yolanda Tovar says:

    I have the same problem. I feel I am running out of wire and very tired too

  5. Avatar Beverly Leslie says:

    Is it true the your Inogen dose not filter out the virus? I read that it does not .

  6. Avatar Geraldine Rushton says:

    People (incl my pulmonologist) cannot understand what it feels like having cannula inside nostrils , closing off outside air. Then, put a mask on over that. It is almost impossible. I have become a hermit & only go out to doctor when needed.

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