For context, this is in the UK—I was told by someone they had been given "nasal specs"—which was the term they had been told when they got them, and then I asked someone I know who is a retired medical professional, and they said that was the term they used (to the extent "nasal cannula" was an unusual term for them, while they understood it, not something they would use).

So this appears to be a common term used in the UK, as far as I can tell, but I couldn't find anyone who knows or any source for where it comes from. Searches online treat it as a synonym, and I can find usages of it, but I can't find anything describing the origin or what "specs" is in this context.

My assumption is that it is an analogy to glasses, i.e: "nasal spectacles" because of the way you wear them. It still feels odd to me but it's the only idea I have that makes any sense. I'm interested if anyone can prove or disprove this theory?

Here is what the device looks like:

A woman wearing a tube running over her ears, across her face, with two prongs to deliver a gas directly into her nose.

  • 1
    Can you explain what this things is and add a picture? It is unclear what exactly you're talking about.
    – Mitch
    Dec 11, 2021 at 18:28
  • 1
    @Mitch There's a photo at the link for my first example.
    – DjinTonic
    Dec 11, 2021 at 20:24
  • @DjinTonic That's what -you- think it is, not what the OP thinks it is.
    – Mitch
    Dec 12, 2021 at 20:28
  • @Mitch if you mean I'm presuming, I agree. Or do you mean you think he definitely means something else?
    – DjinTonic
    Dec 12, 2021 at 20:32
  • @DjinTonic You're probably right, but you're still presuming. I hadn't heard of either before googling.
    – Mitch
    Dec 12, 2021 at 20:40

1 Answer 1


Nasal cannulas are medical devices used when people are unable to get sufficient oxygen to keep their body functioning optimally, whether that's due to a condition like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), another respiratory disorder, or an environmental change. verywellhealth.com [with photo]

Dual prong nasal cannulae or 'nasal specs' actually perform like a variable performance mask. Peter Driscoll et al.; Safe Transfer and Retrieval

Nasal cannulae should be position with one cannula in each nostril... The oxygen tubing should be places over and around the patient's ears, and secured under the chin (like wearing a pair of glasses). Hence they are colloquially known as nasal specs. T. Martin; Aeromedical Transportation

I was wondering whether there is also a connection to the instrument, a nasal speculum, but the only connection I've found so far is this example of "specs" short for (vaginal) specula:

Single-use speculum eliminates the time and expense of reprocessing metal specs AxiomMedicals

speculum (plural specula also speculums)

An instrument inserted into a body passage especially to facilitate visual inspection or medication m-w

  • Thanks for the thorough answer. I guess I managed to infer my way back to the right answer, but I do wonder what made it the preferred term (at least in my small survey of two points across the country) here in the UK. I suspect that's unknowable at this point though.
    – Latty
    Dec 12, 2021 at 19:31
  • A quick google search for your speculative idea of 'nasal speculum' shows something to look up the nostrils, not to provide oxygen like nasal cannulae.
    – Mitch
    Dec 12, 2021 at 20:42
  • It's also used to help administer medicine (as I found out at several recent ENT visits and the definition states) and one informal plural appears to be "specs". And the cannulae may also help keep the nostrils open.
    – DjinTonic
    Dec 12, 2021 at 21:20

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