Simple oxygen face mask illustration

Simple Face Mask and Oxygen Therapy: An Overview (2024)

by | Updated: Jan 13, 2024

A simple oxygen mask is a device used to deliver oxygen to patients in need. The mask, which is designed to cover the nose and mouth, provides a direct channel for enriched air to enter the respiratory system.

Commonly used in a variety of healthcare settings, including hospitals and emergency care, the simple oxygen mask is a vital tool in medical practice, ensuring patients receive the oxygen they require for optimum health outcomes.

This article provides an overview of the simple oxygen mask, including its characteristics, function, and use in respiratory care.

What is Oxygen Therapy?

Oxygen therapy refers to the administration of supplemental oxygen to patients who have difficulty maintaining adequate oxygen levels in their blood due to certain health conditions. This essential life-supportive therapy aids in ensuring that the body’s tissues receive sufficient oxygen to function correctly.

Oxygen is vital for all the cells in the body, and a deficiency, known as hypoxia, can lead to severe health complications, including organ damage.

By increasing the concentration of oxygen that a person inhales, oxygen therapy helps raise the levels of oxygen in the patient’s blood, supporting better organ function and improving overall health.

Oxygen therapy can be used in various healthcare settings, including hospitals, emergency medical settings, and at home, under a healthcare provider’s guidance.

It is utilized to manage a range of conditions, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), pneumonia, asthma, cystic fibrosis, heart failure, sleep apnea, and any condition resulting in decreased oxygen levels in the blood.

The delivery methods for oxygen therapy can vary depending on the patient’s specific needs and the intensity of therapy required. They may include nasal cannulas, simple face masks, Venturi masks, nonrebreather masks, and in more severe cases, mechanical ventilation.

Note: While oxygen therapy can provide significant benefits, it must be appropriately managed. Too much oxygen can lead to oxygen toxicity, causing harmful side effects such as breathing difficulties, chest pain, and even damage to the lungs. Therefore, a healthcare provider should always monitor oxygen therapy.

What is a Simple Oxygen Mast?

A simple oxygen mask, also known as a simple face mask, is a device used to deliver oxygen to a patient who needs help with breathing. The mask covers the nose and mouth of the patient and is connected by an elastic strap that fits around the head. It is connected to an oxygen source and can deliver an FiO2 of 35–50%.

Simple oxygen face mask illustration vector

Simple Oxygen Mask Design and Usage

Constructed from transparent plastic, simple oxygen masks are usually disposable for maintaining hygiene and minimizing the risk of infection.

Patients experiencing chest discomfort potentially indicative of heart attacks, minor hemorrhages, or bouts of dizziness often benefit from the supplemental oxygen these masks deliver.

Flow Rate and FiO2

A defining feature of these masks is the higher flow rate they can offer, typically between 5 to 10 liters per minute.

This allows for an FiO2 (Fraction of Inspired Oxygen) of around 35 to 50%, which is a significantly higher proportion than available through other low-flow delivery systems like nasal cannulas.

Simple Oxygen Mask vs. Nonrebreather

In stark contrast to nonrebreather and partial rebreather masks, simple oxygen masks do not incorporate a reservoir bag.

The mask is also designed with small holes, which, unlike the one-way valves in a nonrebreather, allow ambient air to circulate freely into the mask.

This feature is essential in eliminating the risk of suffocation that could occur if a mask equipped with one-way valves were to disconnect from its oxygen source.

Adjustable Oxygen Delivery

Although the primary function of a simple oxygen mask is to deliver an enriched oxygen concentration, the actual final amount received by the patient can vary.

Factors such as the individual’s current breathing rate and the mask fit can influence how much room air mixes with the supplied oxygen. This can result in a somewhat unpredictable final oxygen concentration.

However, these variations can be mitigated to a degree by attaching a venturi device to the mask.

This device helps control the concentration of oxygen delivered, a feature particularly useful for patients with conditions like emphysema, who may struggle to inhale fully.

Monitoring Oxygenation While Using a Simple Oxygen Mask

The impact and effectiveness of the oxygen therapy delivered through a simple oxygen mask can be regularly assessed using a pulse oximeter.

This non-invasive tool measures the oxygen saturation in the patient’s blood, providing an immediate indication of the therapy’s effectiveness.

For a more comprehensive assessment, medical professionals may opt to perform an arterial blood gas analysis, a test that provides crucial data about the levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the patient’s blood.

FAQs About Simple Oxygen Face Masks

What Is the Difference Between an Oxygen Mask and a Simple Face Mask?

While both terms are sometimes used interchangeably, there can be differences. An oxygen mask is a general term that refers to any mask used to deliver oxygen to a patient.

A simple face mask, on the other hand, is a specific type of oxygen mask. It’s designed for patients who can breathe on their own but require a higher oxygen concentration than ambient air provides.

Other types of oxygen masks include Venturi masks, non-rebreather masks, and partial rebreather masks.

Is a Simple Face Mask Better Than a Nonrebreather?

The choice between a simple face mask and a nonrebreather mask depends on the patient’s specific needs. A simple face mask can deliver a FiO2 of 35-50% and is suitable for patients requiring moderate levels of supplemental oxygen.

A nonrebreather mask, on the other hand, provides close to 100% oxygen and is used for patients requiring higher levels of oxygen, like those in critical condition.

Both have their roles in patient care, and the decision should be based on a healthcare provider’s assessment.

What Is the Minimum Liter Flow for a Simple Face Mask?

The minimum recommended flow rate for a simple face mask is generally around 5 liters per minute.

Healthcare providers increase the flow rate up to 10 liters per minute based on the patient’s oxygen saturation levels, clinical condition, and comfort.

What Are the Three Types of Oxygen Masks?

The three common types of oxygen masks are simple face masks, non-rebreather masks, and Venturi masks. Simple face masks deliver a moderate concentration of oxygen.

Non-rebreather masks have a reservoir bag that fills with pure oxygen, allowing the patient to inhale almost 100% oxygen. Venturi masks deliver a precise oxygen concentration by mixing oxygen with room air.

Which Mask Provides 100% Oxygen?

A nonrebreather mask is designed to deliver close to 100% oxygen. It achieves this by incorporating a reservoir bag to store pure oxygen and one-way valves to prevent exhaled air from re-entering the mask.

This design allows patients to inhale almost pure oxygen, maximizing the oxygen concentration delivered to the patient.

However, it’s important to note that even with this design, achieving a full 100% oxygen concentration can be challenging due to mixing with ambient air.

Final Thoughts

The simple oxygen mask serves as a fundamental piece of equipment in medical settings, delivering crucial oxygen support to patients when they need it most.

Its versatility and ease of use make it a reliable tool for healthcare professionals to provide optimal respiratory care.

Despite its simplicity, this device plays a pivotal role in ensuring improved health outcomes and aiding in the recovery process for many patients.

From routine health checks to emergency care, the simple oxygen mask continues to be an indispensable cornerstone in the delivery of quality care.

John Landry, BS, RRT

Written by:

John Landry, BS, RRT

John Landry is a registered respiratory therapist from Memphis, TN, and has a bachelor's degree in kinesiology. He enjoys using evidence-based research to help others breathe easier and live a healthier life.


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