What Is a High Flow Cannula?

L.L. Probst

A high flow cannula is used to deliver high amounts of oxygen to a patient who is in need of oxygen therapy. The cannula comes in different lengths and is attached to either an oxygen tank or a machine called an oxygen concentrator. When using a high flow cannula, many people prefer to have a bubbler or humidifier also attached to the oxygen delivery line coming from the oxygen tank.

Many people prefer to attach a humidifier to the oxygen delivery line.
Many people prefer to attach a humidifier to the oxygen delivery line.

When the need for oxygen exceeds 0.2 cubic feet (6 liters) per minute, the use of a high flow cannula will often be implemented. A high flow cannula will deliver 0.2-0.53 cubic feet (6-15 liters) of oxygen to the patient each per minute. A doctor will determine an adequate amount of oxygen needed through numerous testing procedures.

With a high flow cannula, oxygen may be delivered through short nasal tubes that are inserted into the nostrils of the patient.
With a high flow cannula, oxygen may be delivered through short nasal tubes that are inserted into the nostrils of the patient.

Oxygen is delivered through short nasal tubes that are inserted into the nostrils of the patient. The nasal tubes are connected to reservoir tubing that lies along the cheekbones. The reservoir tubing minimizes to a 4- or 7-foot (about 1- or 2-meter) length of tubing that rests behind the ears, adjusts under the chin, then continues to a cinch connector that binds it into a single tube and ends with an opening to connect to a swivel connector. From the swivel connector, various lengths of tubing are attached to either an oxygen tank or a machine that concentrates oxygen from the air in the room.

Nasal cannulas are designed to fit into the nose and be secured around the head.
Nasal cannulas are designed to fit into the nose and be secured around the head.

The use of a humidifier or bubbler is generally preferred when using a high flow cannula. The large amounts of oxygen being administered to the patient can result in dried-out nasal passages, nosebleed and general discomfort. The humidified air helps alleviate these issues by keeping the delicate tissues that line the nasal cavity moist. Humidifiers should be used only with an oxygen tank, because the additional moisture can cause mechanical failure in oxygen concentrators.

The increase in respiratory illnesses and the need to have comfortable, yet adequate, oxygen delivery has given rise to the high flow cannula. Prior to their use, many people were receiving their oxygen therapy through face masks that placed uncomfortable amounts of pressure on the face and made it difficult to do everyday tasks such as eating and drinking. With the use of the high flow cannula system, a patient can wear the device comfortably with little or no pressure on the face area. Drinking and eating are unimpeded as well and can be performed without the removal of the cannula, allowing for undisrupted oxygen therapy.

To alleviate problems with the cannulas, such as clogging or transmitting infection after having a cold, patients are advised to change out their high flow cannula periodically. This typically should be done once a week and after any illness. Washing the cannula with soap and water is an adequate way to care for the cannula between changes.

Using a high flow cannula may result in dried-out nasal passages and nosebleeds.
Using a high flow cannula may result in dried-out nasal passages and nosebleeds.

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