Sometimes an oxygen concentrator with a high flow is necessary to meet a patient's oxygen requirements. A higher setting is often needed for more severe cases of low oxygen in the bloodstream. When someone with healthy lungs takes a breath, they are really only breathing in 21% oxygen in the air. For someone with moderate to severe COPD, that percent will be much lower.
Oxygen concentrators support two types of oxygen delivery flow – continuous and pulse (or intermittent). To clarify, continuous flow oxygen setting puts out a constant flow of air through the nasal cannula or mask, irrespective of when a patient breathes. Pulse dose releases oxygen in pulses, also referred to as a bolus, usually according to the patient’s breathing pattern.
There are two kinds of oxygen concentrators, known as home oxygen concentrators (HOC) and portable oxygen concentrators (POC). You can tell the difference just by looking at the device. POCs are compact and lightweight, whereas HOC are big and powerful. Home units lack mobility like the POCs; therefore, they are also known as stationary oxygen concentrators. Most of the POCs feature only pulse dose setting, only a few of them have both continuous and pulse flow. In contrast, stationary units have only continuous flow settings.
High Flow Concentrators at Different Elevations
'High flow' home units have settings that go as high as 10 LPM (liters per minute) of continuous flow. Some can go only up to 5 LPM. While the highest settings that POCs have are 3 LPM and 196 ml/min of pulse dose oxygen. Portable concentrators can't be high flow because they need to be small enough to carry around comfortably. High continuous flow oxygen concentrators are more powerful and need to be larger to hold all the inner workings needed to run on high settings.
High Flow Oxygen Units with Up to 10 LPM:
They have a provision for a humidifier that can be used on the high oxygen flow. The humidifier is necessary on the higher oxygen settings because the higher flow of air can be much drier and more irritating to the airways. The humidity helps to cut down on irritation and issues like a bloody nose or sore throat. You may even need to use this on the lower settings during particularly dry times of the year.
High flow oxygen concentrators are larger and heavier than the ones that go only up to 5 LPM. The heaviest and largest is the AirSep Intensity 10, which weighs in at 58 pounds and stands at 27.5 inches tall and 16.5 inches wide. It can be used as a nebulizer machine. The Invacare Platinum 10 and the Respironics Millennium 10 both weigh 53 pounds and are 18 and 19 inches tall respectively. Despite their weight, they can still be easily taken from one room to another because of the wheels on the bottom.
With the advancement in medical technology, both portable and stationary oxygen concentrators are getting smaller and smarter. Possibly in a few years, we might see the release of a portable oxygen concentrator that can be as small as the current ones and still offer 4 LPM or even 5 LPM of continuous flow oxygen.