Common Questions About Oxygen Supplies
A portable oxygen concentrator is a type of device that takes the outside air and filters out other gasses, leaving behind pure oxygen. Pure oxygen can then be supplied to a patient as part of oxygen therapy for a disease like COPD or Emphysema. The great thing about a concentrator is that it completely eliminates the dependence on tanked oxygen, and gives a person the freedom to be active and live life! As the years have gone on, portable oxygen machines have gotten smaller, lighter, and easier to carry. Many concentrators are light enough to carry on the shoulder, and many come with shoulder straps and a carrying case.
There are two types of oxygen therapy flow: pulse dose or continuous flow. Most portable oxygen concentrators provide pulse dose only, though some also provide continuous flow.
Pulse Dose Flow: Detects changes in breathing and can deliver a targeted dose of oxygen as you inhale.
Continuous Flow: Continuous flow oxygen is exactly what it sounds like: it delivers a constant stream of oxygen.
A doctor will need to figure out if you need a pulse dose or continuous flow model, and what flow rate setting you need. Some concentrators have 3 flow settings, while other models will have as many as 5. When you buy your new machine, you'll need to make sure it can deliver the flow rate you're looking for.
An oxygen machine works by absorbing the outside air through an inlet on the machine, where it passes through a series of filters that remove all the other gasses and leave nothing but pure oxygen. A concentrator creates therapy-quality oxygen on its own, and can never run out of oxygen. As a result, you'd have no more need to ever buy tanked oxygen again!
Here's a step-by-step chart of exactly how a concentrator works:
- The surrounding air is absorbed through a small air inlet on the machine.
- Air is quietly compressed, and a cooling mechanism prevents the air from overheating.
- Nitrogen and other gasses are removed from the air using a special filter.
- Most machines have an electronic interface that allows you to control the flow of oxygen.
- The purified oxygen is delivered to the nose by a small tube known as a cannula.
- You breathe normally, and the purified oxygen raises your blood oxygen levels.
If your blood oxygen levels are dangerously low due to a disease like COPD or Emphysema, then you might need an oxygen concentrator. A concentrator requires a doctor's prescription and is not available for athletic training or other recreational uses.
How to Use a Portable Oxygen Concentrator
Using portable oxygen is easy! Your doctor will tell you if you need a pulse dose or continuous flow machine and will prescribe the flow rate that's going to be best for you. It's important to remember to never increase or decrease your flow rate against your doctor's advice. There are a few controls on most concentrators: a power button (on/off) and then most machines will have an interface to help control the flow rate.
It's a good idea to keep the concentrator in the carrying case, even when not in use. This will help keep the oxygen machine clean, and ready for its next use. Keep it dry and out of the rain, and make sure it never gets wet.
If your concentrator has an external filter, be sure to keep it maintained per the manufacturer's recommendations in the user manual or finding video instructions on YouTube.
When using oxygen therapy for the first time, you may take for granted the most important part of your therapy: your tubing and cannula! You could have the best oxygen concentrator in the world, but if it doesn't have tubing that can get to your nose, you won't get the benefit from the therapy!
Your tubing needs to be changed every 3 - 6 months, and your nasal cannula needs to be changed once a month. The tubing is the thin clear plastic hose that stretches from the machine to your head, and the cannula is the small nasal piece that connects to the nose.
Other oxygen accessories that some people find helpful are longer tubing for added freedom or a tubing adapter to add supplemental oxygen to CPAP therapy. Occasionally, you may also need to replace the carrying case, batteries, or other supplies.
A good oxygen concentrator will cost around $2,000. The prices for a home unit and a portable concentrator are about the same, so it's not as though you'd be paying extra for portability. Years ago, Medicare changed its rules for how it reimbursed insurance companies for tanked oxygen. This led to tanked oxygen becoming more expensive, and the result was rapid growth in demand for home and portable oxygen. It's also why there aren't many practical alternatives to using a portable concentrator, and why it's important to have one despite the high initial cost.
That depends. Some machines are small enough, light enough, and portable enough to be carried on an airplane. Some are large and bulky and cannot be carried onboard an airplane. Some types of Lithium Ion batteries are unsuitable for transport on an airplane, and some are cleared to fly. It depends on the type of machine that you buy. If a machine is cleared by the FAA to be carried on an airplane, it will usually say so in the product page description. You can shop looking for this language, and it will help you find a concentrator that you can carry on a flight. Keep in mind that airline regulations change frequently, and even some devices that have been cleared by the FAA are not allowed on certain airlines. You'll want to check with the airline you want to fly with before purchasing the ticket.
Portable oxygen can be purchased online or from a local DME or medical device supplier. Locally, there may not be much selection, so it makes sense to try looking for your first machine online. There, you'll find a wide selection available, with many different options.