Learning to use supplemental oxygen as a young adult was arguably the hardest part of my idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) diagnosis. My life changed once I required the help of a plastic tube with two prongs up my nose to complete basic tasks that most people take for granted.
While I wasn’t dependent on supplemental oxygen when I was diagnosed, it wasn’t long before I required it at night, and then with activities that required exertion. Now, I need it regularly. Some days, I’m still adjusting and learning how to live a productive life with oxygen.
I describe managing supplemental oxygen at home as a full-time job. There is a lot to learn, especially in the beginning. Thankfully, I can still manage for short periods without oxygen, so a situation like losing power and not having back-up tanks isn’t critical, but it does cause anxiety.
I always try to be proactive by keeping extra tanks handy in case a power outage happens. Unfortunately, learning to be proactive occurred as a result of enduring stressful situations that I’ve learned from.
In addition to being proactive in storing oxygen, I’ve had to find solutions to maneuver around the house safely. I’ve purchased longer cannulas, but they get caught on things, and other patients have told me their pets sometimes chew holes in them. As a result, we must take steps to ensure our oxygen line is kept clean and safe as we walk around the house, especially when using longer cannulas.
I have also learned to quickly spot outlets in public spaces I go to with my portable oxygen concentrator (POC). Some machines like mine have a lengthy battery life, but I usually feel more comfortable knowing where I can plug the POC in when I need to. I also regularly obsess over where the car charger for my POC is, especially during longer road trips.
While these are just some of the things I’ve learned since requiring supplemental oxygen after my IPF diagnosis, I am still learning. Many patients would agree that managing supplemental oxygen is an ongoing learning process. How to do certain things, and ways to increase the portability of oxygen tanks and concentrators, are popular topics of discussion at our PF News Forums.
Another topic is how to make the cannula more comfortable while wearing it 24/7, because often it is irritating. Following are some of the ways it can negatively affect users:
Skin breaks down behind the ears
Anything that rubs against the skin for a prolonged period will cause irritation or a breakdown of the skin. I’m guilty of wearing my cannula tightly to my face, because I get frustrated with having to push it up all the time. And given the ongoing pandemic, the less I touch my face, the better.
But tightly wearing my cannula causes irritation behind my ears. To alleviate this, I put the cannula over my head and tighten the tubing around the crown of my skull, letting the excess tubing fall behind me rather than in front. This gives my ears a break when the skin is irritated from wearing the cannula the normal way.
Tender nose sores
Depending on the type of cannula, small blisters might appear at the base of my nose, which becomes increasingly tender the more I wear that specific tubing. Sometimes changing the cannula to a new one (of the same brand) helps, but other times it doesn’t.
Patients requiring oxygen also must be careful with the type of lotion they use to alleviate sores, because some lotions are flammable. For example, Vaseline should not be used to moisturize your nose when using supplemental oxygen.
Rather than the standard plastic tubing, I find Flexi-Soft cannulas from Salter Labs much more comfortable.
I’ve always had rosy red cheeks, especially when I’m not feeling well or if I’m frustrated or have been crying. I thought this was worsening as I got older, but after a recent facial, I learned that the redness might be caused by broken capillaries in my cheeks.
The facialist explained that she could see where my cannula rested across my cheeks, and she provided me some organic skin care products to help heal the broken capillaries.
Many patients who use oxygen regularly end up with nosebleeds due to the dryness that oxygen causes. Nasal passages become irritated, which leads to frequent bleeds that often are prolonged and difficult to stop.
What are some of the unexpected irritations oxygen cannulas have caused you since requiring supplemental oxygen?
Note: Pulmonary Fibrosis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Pulmonary Fibrosis News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to pulmonary fibrosis.
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