Oxygen Face Masks Vs Nasal Cannula: All You Need To Know

Apr 26, 2022

Oxygen Face Masks Vs Nasal Cannula: All You Need To Know

Both nasal cannulas and oxygen face masks deliver oxygen to patients in respiratory distress or who may otherwise need supplemental oxygen. Patients with conditions such as COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), cardiac disease, sleep apnoea, lung problems or other issues can all benefit from oxygen therapy.

There are two main oxygen delivery sources: oxygen concentrators and oxygen tanks, both of which require devices that move oxygen from the source to the patient. Two of the most common devices are nasal cannula and oxygen masks.

If you or a loved one are undergoing oxygen therapy, you may wonder which device is best to use with your oxygen sources. Below you’ll find a quick, comprehensive guide discussing each device and diving into the pros and cons of oxygen face masks vs. nasal cannula devices.

What are nasal cannulas?

Nasal cannulas are flexible tubes used in oxygen therapy. They consist of a long piece of tubing, nasal prongs, and smaller tubing to hook around the ears and hold the device in place.

Many people wonder what the difference is between a nasal cannula vs. nasal prongs. A nasal cannula is a term for the oxygen device as a whole; nasal prongs are simply one element of a nasal cannula. Every cannula comes equipped with two curved, straight or flared nasal prongs located at one end. The prongs sit inside the nose, and the opposite end of the tubing connects to an oxygen source, providing low or high flow oxygen to the patient.

Advantages of nasal cannulas

Nasal cannulas are more popular than face masks for several reasons. They:

  • Are less bulky and less intrusive
  • Allow the patient to eat and speak while wearing oxygen
  • Are simple and comfortable to wear
  • Allow the patient to breathe through the mouth
  • Are ideal for various ages
  • Are inexpensive and easily replaceable
  • Can be used with various flow rates
  • Are more likely to remain in position when in use

NRB masks can deliver such high oxygen concentrations due to their unique design. When using a non-rebreather mask, a one-way valve prevents outside air from entering the reservoir bag and mixing with the pure oxygen there. This helps ensure that the patient doesn’t inhale room air or re-inhale exhaled air.

Disadvantages of nasal cannulas

The main disadvantage of nasal cannulas is that they can sometimes lead to nasal dryness, especially when the patient is using a high flow nasal cannula. There is also a low risk of nasal cannulas causing high oxygen levels, which can be dangerous.

What is an oxygen mask?

Oxygen masks cover the nose and mouth and stay attached via an elastic band that wraps around the back of the head. An oxygen tube in the lower front of the mask connects to the oxygen source. These masks have side ports located near the cheeks that allow room air to enter the mask and also ensure that carbon dioxide doesn’t build up in the mask.

In contrast to nasal cannulas, face masks aren’t generally used for long-term treatments. Simple face masks are typically used to provide low flow rates of oxygen. Some oxygen masks — such as the partial rebreather or non-rebreather mask — deliver higher concentrations of oxygen than are available with simple oxygen masks or nasal cannulas.

Advantages of face masks

Some patients may prefer using a face mask instead of a cannula, as face masks offer several distinct advantages. Most notably, face masks can provide a consistent flow of oxygen and generally have a higher recommended flow rate than standard nasal cannulas, with flow rates averaging between 6 and 10 litres per minute.

Disadvantages of oxygen face masks

Some disadvantages of oxygen masks include:

  • The mask or elastic strap may cause chafing or discomfort.
  • It can cause feelings of claustrophobia in some patients.
  • The mask may make it difficult to speak.
  • It makes it difficult to eat or drink.
  • They must operate at a minimal flow rate to help flush out exhaled carbon dioxide.

There are several different types of face masks, from simple face masks used for short-term oxygen therapy to more intricate non-rebreather and rebreather masks.

Oxygen face mask vs. nasal cannula: Which is best?

These days, nasal cannulas are the most popular and widely used oxygen therapy delivery systems, thanks in part to their many advantages and low-risk profile.
However, both oxygen face masks and nasal cannulas are safe and effective options to use with most oxygen sources. For many patients undergoing oxygen therapy, the type of device used will depend on personal preference and the required oxygen flow rates.

Medical oxygen sources and consumables for at-home and in-clinic use

As Australia’s leading supplier of medical gases and medical gas equipment and products, our team at Mega Medical is proud to offer various medical oxygen consumables. Our range includes necessities such as adult and youth nasal cannula and tubing, oxygen non-rebreathing masks, and simple oxygen masks.

For help finding essential equipment and products, call us today on 1300 881 824 and speak to our knowledgeable staff.