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