oxygen concentrator
Therapy Equipment

What is an Oxygen Concentrator and How Does It Work? (Uses and Reasons)

Thanks to the field of medicine’s great advancements, the oxygen concentrators today are compact, small, quiet and lightweight, but still provide the utmost compliance and high performance. Older oxygen concentrators are bulky and heavy, making it difficult for patients requiring oxygen therapy while traveling or outside their home.

Today, you can choose from at home stationary concentrators and portable oxygen concentrators (POCs), which can go wherever you go easily.

What is an Oxygen Concentrator?

Oxygen concentrator definition: An oxygen concentrator is a type of medical device used for delivering oxygen to individuals with breathing-related disorders. Individuals whose oxygen concentration in their blood is lower than normal often require an oxygen concentrator to replace that oxygen.

Generally, you can’t buy an oxygen concentrator over the counter. A doctor must prescribe it after they’ve completed a thorough medical evaluation. The doctors will also typically show the patients how to effectively use these concentrators while traveling and in their home.

Oxygen concentrators filter surrounding air, compressing it to the required density and then delivering purified medical grade oxygen into a pulse-dose delivery system or continuous stream system to the patient.

It’s also equipped with special filters and sieve beds which help remove Nitrogen from the air to ensure delivery of completely purified oxygen to the patient. These devices also come with an electronic user interface so you can adjust the levels of oxygen concentration and delivery settings. You then inhale the oxygen through the nasal cannula or special mask.

You generally measure the oxygen concentrator output in LPM (liters per minute). Your doctor will determine what level of oxygen you need, which may vary at rest, during sleep, and when you exercise.

What are the Uses and Reasons for an Oxygen Concentrator?

There are many reasons for an oxygen concentrator and doctors can recommend oxygen therapy to their patients for various medical conditions. Typically, your lungs absorb the air’s oxygen, transferring it into your bloodstream.

If you’ve had bloodwork or pulse oximetry recently performed to assess your oxygen saturation levels, and you were found to have low levels of blood oxygen, your doctor may recommend short-term or long-term oxygen therapy.

You’re probably wondering what is an oxygen concentrator used for? Acute conditions usually require short-term oxygen therapy. These conditions normally run for a short period of time. They may have a sudden onset of symptoms versus chronic conditions where things occur gradually. However, some respiratory or chronic conditions require long-term oxygen supplementation.

Acute Conditions Requiring an Oxygen Concentrator

A few examples of acute conditions where you would need the use of an oxygen concentrator for short-term oxygen therapy are:

Asthma: This condition is where your airways become inflamed and begin producing a lot of mucus, which makes it harder to breathe. While there are a number of pharmaceuticals that can treat and control asthma, an oxygen concentrator can pump high levels of oxygen into the bloodstream of the patient while they’re having or have already had an asthma attack.

Pneumonia: Pneumonia is an infection where you develop inflammation in either one or both of your lungs’ air sacs and in many cases, fill them up with fluid. Many pneumonia patients have been prescribed oxygen therapy and have seen good clinical outcomes.

Respiratory distress syndrome (RDS): RDS is a breathing disorder mostly affecting newborns, particularly those who are born six or more weeks before their delivery date. Newborns suffering from RDS don’t create enough surfactant (a lung coating liquid), causing their lungs to collapse and making them work harder to breathe. Oxygen therapy using oxygen concentrators help pump oxygen into the babies’ blood stream and lungs to reduce further complications.

Bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD): Newborns suffering from RDS also have a higher risk of developing BPD. This is a severe lung condition requiring long-term breathing support.

In some cases, after surgery, you may need oxygen for a short period of time.

Chronic Diseases that Require Oxygen Therapy

Some chronic conditions requiring long-term oxygen concentrator uses are:

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD): COPD affects around 16 million people, but an oxygen concentrator can be an effective treatment. When you have COPD, you have chronic lung damage which makes it difficult for your lungs to absorb enough oxygen. As a result, you can have difficulty breathing, and oxygen therapy through a concentrator can help.

Cystic fibrosis: You inherit this life-threatening condition. It causes digestive system and lung damage. It’s a rare condition that affects the body’s cells responsible for producing mucus, sweat and digestive juices. The fluids are changed which result in a stickier, thicker solution that plugs the ducts, tubes, and passageways of the individual infected.

Sleep Apnea: Sleep apnea is a sleeping disorder that can be serious and cause the individual’s breathing to sporadically stop and start during their sleep. Usually, treatment for this condition is continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), weight loss and physical exercise, though some people with sleep apnea may require oxygen therapy.

How Does an Oxygen Concentrator Work?

Think of an oxygen concentrator as a window air conditioner — it takes air in, changes it and delivers it in a different form. The oxygen concentrator takes air in and purifies it for use by individuals who require medical oxygen because of low levels of oxygen in their blood.
It works by:

  1. Compressing air as the cooling mechanism keeps the concentrator from becoming overheated
  2. Taking air in from its surroundings
  3. Using an electronic interface to adjust delivery settings
  4. Removing nitrogen from the air through sieve beds and a filter
  5. Delivering purified oxygen through a mask or nasal cannula

Patients who required oxygen therapy in the past mainly relied on pressurized oxygen tanks. Even though these tanks are extremely effective, they’re also fairly inefficient with the suppliers having to visit the patients regularly to replenish their oxygen supply in their tank.

Takeaway

Learn more about the different oxygen concentrators available to you from CPAP.com:

1. Philips Respironics SimplyGo Mini Portable Oxygen Concentrator with Pulse Dose Flow – A travel-friendly oxygen concentrator with accessories and features specifically for the active lifestyle. It provides a pulse dose flow, helping to extend its battery life.

2. Philips Respironics SimplyGo Portable Oxygen Concentrator with Pulse Dose and Continuous Flow – This is a portable concentrator for individuals who wish to bring along their oxygen therapy with them while performing their daily activities. It provides pulse dose and continuous flow modes for extra versatility.

3. Inogen One G4 Portable Oxygen Concentrator with Pulse Dose Flow – The Inogen One G4 makes its own oxygen supply using the air surrounding. It’s today’s most portable oxygen concentrator and is light and small enough to carry it like a tote bag or purse. It even has a shoulder strap connected to the device directly.

4. Inogen One G3 Portable Oxygen Concentrator with Pulse Dose Flow – A compact oxygen concentrator made for providing pulse dose oxygen on the go or at home. It weighs 4.8 pounds, making it perfect for traveling.

5. Inogen At Home Stationary Oxygen Concentrator with Continuous Flow – An oxygen concentrator providing high continuous oxygen levels for home use. It’s one of the more compact, lighter stationary concentrators around and provides one to five liters per minute continuous flow.

6. ResMed Activox™ Portable Oxygen Concentrator with Pulse Dose Flow – A portable oxygen concentrator that’s versatile and perfect for the active user. It has an internal battery so you can unplug the concentrator and take it wherever you go.

Visit CPAP.com to learn more about these portable and stationary oxygen concentrators and how they can help you breathe better with an active life. You’ll first want to have your doctor or sleep professional give you a full evaluation to determine if a portable or stationary oxygen concentrator is ideal for your needs.

David Repasky has been using CPAP treatment since 2017 and has first-hand experience with what it’s like to live with Sleep Apnea. He brings the patient’s perspective to the CPAP.com blog and has received formal training in CPAP machines, masks, and equipment.

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