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Caring for Your Baby's Nasal Cannula

Topic Overview

Many infants who have chronic lung disease need home oxygen therapy, often for many months. The infant's oxygen needs often increase during and after eating or taking inhaled medicines.

To provide your newborn with oxygen, you may need to use a nasal cannula. A nasal cannula is a flexible plastic tube that is used to deliver oxygen to the body through the nose. Oxygen passes through the tube and into the nostrils.

Take basic precautions while caring for an infant who is using a nasal cannula for oxygen therapy.

  • Order oxygen from your medical supplier 2 to 3 days before you run out.
  • To prevent fire and explosion, do not allow smoking, open flames, oil products, or electrical or spark hazards in the same room or area where the infant is receiving oxygen.
  • Make sure that the prongs of the cannula are always fully inserted into the infant's nose.
  • Do not let the oxygen tubing become kinked or blocked.
  • Keep the cannula on your infant as the doctor ordered. Most care for the infant can be given with the cannula in place, including feeding, bathing, and changing diapers.
  • Arrange for a portable source of oxygen to use when you travel outside the home.
  • If the infant has a stuffy nose from a cold or respiratory infection, he or she will breathe more often through the mouth. Mouth breathing decreases the amount of oxygen the infant receives through the cannula. If this occurs, call your doctor.

Help your baby stay comfortable by keeping the nasal cannula properly placed. Also, keep the nose area clean and the nasal mucous membranes moist.

  • Check the infant's skin around the cannula's straps for irritation and proper fit. Often a padding of taped gauze will protect the infant's ears from rubbing caused by the cannula strap. If the skin irritation continues, call your doctor.
  • If instructed to do so, always keep the humidification system of the oxygen container filled with sterile or bottled water. This helps to prevent drying of the mucous membranes in the infant's nose.
  • Even with humidified oxygen, the inside of the infant's nose can become dry. Inspect the infant's nostrils daily for irritation. Gently clean the infant's nostril areas every day with a soft, moist cloth. To help prevent drying, gently apply a water-soluble lubricant such as K-Y Jelly where the cannula rests. Do not use petroleum-based products (such as Vaseline), because they increase nasal drying and can be flammable in the presence of oxygen. Call your doctor if the skin around the infant's nostrils becomes irritated.

Related Information

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer John Pope, MD - Pediatrics
Specialist Medical Reviewer Jennifer Merchant, MD - Neonatal-Perinatal Medicine
Last Revised April 12, 2013

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