Over the last decade or so, the portability of oxygen concentrator machines and equipment has changed dramatically. Currently, there are units weighing less than five pounds on the market. Lightweight oxygen units allow people who require oxygen to be much more mobile and active than in the past. The quality of life for these patients has therefore significantly increased.
Portable Oxygen machines do not require stored oxygen to work, unlike oxygen tanks. That means they don’t ever run out of oxygen or have to be refilled. They also are much less risky than a tank, since the liquid or gas oxygen contained in tanks have the ability to leak, leaving patients without oxygen in times of need. Instead, the machines take in air from the surrounding atmosphere, remove nitrogen from it, and produce oxygen. The oxygen then leaves the concentrator for patient use.
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Oxygen concentrator machines are powered in two ways. They can be plugged into an AC or DC power supply, and usually, come with a rechargeable battery. The batteries make oxygen concentrators truly portable. Often, concentrators are produced for easy mobility, by cart (similar to a rolling suitcase), belt, handle, or backpack.
Oxygen is delivered in one of two ways from a concentrator. They can provide air via continuous or intermittent flow. Continuous flow oxygen concentrators provide the same amount of oxygen regardless of how many times a patient breaths per minute. Because they deliver a precise amount of oxygen per minute based on the manufacturer’s specs, intermittent, or pulse dose, oxygen concentrators are usually recommended for patients that require a lower flow of oxygen. Pulse dose oxygen concentrator machines deliver oxygen only when a patient inhales, while continuous flow oxygen concentrators never stop delivering oxygen while powered. Some oxygen concentrator machines (generally portable models) only offer pulse/intermittent flow, while others are capable of producing both pulse and continuous flow. Patients need to consider their prescribed blood oxygen range when choosing an oxygen concentrator machine. Your doctor will give you a range of saturation which you can test while trying out a concentrator, both at rest and while active. A great way to try out an oxygen concentrator machine is to use a pulse oximeter to measure your blood oxygen levels during use.
Generally, oxygen concentrator machines become heavier as they supply more oxygen. The heavier machines also tend to have a shorter battery life. Patients need to consider their lifestyle carefully when choosing an oxygen concentrator so that they rent or purchase a unit that best meets their needs. If a patient does not need to be mobile while using their concentrator, they may want to choose a stationary oxygen concentrator machine.
Oxygen concentrators can be rented for travel use. They are also allowed on airplanes as long as the particular model is FAA and TSA approved, and fits under a seat or in an overhead compartment. They can easily be used during car travel by powering the unit through the DC outlet.
In summary, when considering an oxygen concentrator machine, patients need to think first about their required oxygen levels. You may want to choose a machine that will grow with you if you anticipate your necessary levels may increase in the future. Next, consider the battery life and portability of the oxygen concentrator in terms of your lifestyle and activity levels. Oxygen concentrators vary significantly from model to model, so be sure to check the specs of each unit.