The Differences Between Oxygen Concentrators and CPAP Machines

If you need both an oxygen concentrator and a continuous positive airway pressure (or CPAP) machine, you might be wondering: What is the difference? While these therapies seem similar and sometimes treat the same disease, they are different in many ways.

In this brief blog post, we will discuss the main differences between an oxygen concentrator and a CPAP machine. We will also discuss some scenarios in which these therapeutic devices might overlap.

What is an Oxygen Concentrator?

An oxygen concentrator is a standalone or portable device that draws in ambient air, filters out the nitrogen, and expels the remaining oxygen as a concentrated gas. The primary function of an oxygen concentrator is to deliver more oxygen than what is available in the ambient air.

The air we breathe is made up of 21% oxygen and 79% nitrogen, with some trace gases mixed in. In certain disease states such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or pulmonary fibrosis, the body requires more oxygen than what is available in the ambient air. So to meet that requirement, an oxygen concentrator creates a concentrated source of almost pure oxygen to raise the percentage of ambient oxygen to anywhere from 87%–100% oxygen depending on the manufacturer. This concentrated oxygen is then breathed in via a nasal cannula or oxygen mask to increase the amount of oxygen in the body. Depending on your needs, this concentrated oxygen can be delivered in a continuous flow (more oxygen) or as intermittent, or pulse-dose, flow (less oxygen).

Oxygen Concentrators and CPAP Machines Differences - What is an Oxygen Concentrator?

To determine whether you need supplemental oxygen via an oxygen concentrator, your doctor might order several tests to determine the baseline level of oxygen in your blood and if it changes during mild exertion. These tests include a pulmonary function test (to test the overall function of your lungs), an arterial blood gas (to determine how much oxygen is in your blood at rest), a pulse-oximetry stress test (to measure changes in your oxygen level following a brief walk), and a chest x-ray.

What is a CPAP Machine?

A CPAP machine is a standalone device that compresses ambient air to generate pressure for therapeutic purposes. It is widely used at home to treat obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), but it can also be used in emergency settings in a hospital by a respiratory therapist.

With OSA, the primary problem is that the throat collapses while sleeping, causing the patient to snore. While snoring is often seen as a humorous act in movies, this repeated collapsing of the throat actually obstructs airflow into the lungs, which can eventually lead to dangerously low oxygen levels in the blood.

Oxygen Concentrators and CPAP Machines Differences - What is a CPAP Machine?

If OSA is the only clinical problem (outside of any other lung disease), then using a CPAP machine is generally sufficient to reverse the problem. The pressure generated by the CPAP machine flows through the CPAP tubing, into a face or nose mask, and then into your lungs. This pressure acts like a stent in the back of your throat, which keeps your throat from collapsing during sleep. If you have ever set up a camping tent, the pressure from a CPAP machine functions similarly to the framework inside the fabric of the tent, which keeps the tent open and prevents it from collapsing on itself.

What Is the Difference Between an Oxygen Concentrator and CPAP Machine?

There are 2 main differences between an oxygen concentrator and a CPAP machine:

  • The concentration of oxygen in the air flow
  • The amount of pressure flowing through the tubing

As described earlier, the primary function of an oxygen concentrator is to increase the percentage of oxygen in the ambient air. A CPAP machine, however, will not increase the amount of oxygen in the airflow it generates. While a CPAP machine produces a higher pressure of ambient air, the oxygen concentration remains at 21%.

To address the second point, while an oxygen concentrator increases the ambient level of oxygen in the air to anywhere from 87%–100%, it does not generate enough pressure to keep the throat open in the presence of OSA.

Can They Be Used Together?

While these 2 devices function differently, CPAP machines and oxygen concentrators can also be used together for certain conditions. For example, if you have a lung problem like pulmonary edema or COPD on top of OSA, it might be necessary to add in oxygen to the tubing of your CPAP machine. This will achieve both functions at the same time: increasing the amount of oxygen in the ambient air and also generating enough pressure to keep the throat open.

Final Thoughts

It can be confusing at first to understand the differences between these 2 devices because they are used in many of the same scenarios. Hopefully, this overview has given you some insight into how they are different so you can make more informed decisions with your healthcare provider.

About Ryan Anthony: Ryan A., BS, RRT is a registered respiratory therapist and content writer and medical blogger currently located in Los Angeles, California. As a Respiratory Therapist, he performs a wide range of hospital duties including adult and neonatal intensive care, nitric oxide therapy, high-frequency oscillatory ventilation, conventional mechanical ventilation, noninvasive ventilation, BiPAP, CPAP, intubation assistance, bronchoscopy assistance, cardiopulmonary resuscitation, chest physiotherapy, and nebulizer therapy.

36 thoughts on “The Differences Between Oxygen Concentrators and CPAP Machines”

  • deepak

    want to buy

    Reply
    • Danielle Jason
      Danielle Jason May 16, 2017 at 12:33 am

      Wonderful, go ahead and give our Oxygen Specialists a call at 877-774-9271 and they'll be able to get you started!

      Reply
  • Gloria

    Is pure oxygen habit forming

    Reply
  • Lesley Andring
    Lesley Andring August 8, 2017 at 1:22 am

    How can you use oxygen and CPAP machine together?

    Reply
    • Danielle Jason
      Danielle Jason August 8, 2017 at 1:37 am

      Thank you for your comment, Lesley. Go ahead and check out our blog post on How To Connect a CPAP Machine to Your Oxygen Concentrator. You can read that here: http://www.oxygenconcentratorstore.com/blog/connect-oxygen-concentrator-cpap-machine/

      Reply
  • Ara

    If you cannot tolerate CPAP for moderate sleep apnea, can you use an oxigen concentrator instead?

    Reply
    • Danielle Jason

      Thank you for your comment, Ara. Although it is generally not recommended, some patients are able to use a higher flow rate on a continuous, stationary unit in place of their CPAP machine. Go ahead and reach out to one of our Oxygen Specialists at 877-774-9271 to discuss your options.

      Reply
  • Kate

    If the main problem with my sleep apnea is that my oxygen levels are dropping to 60 wouldn't it make more sense to get concentrated oxygen? The CPAP mask irritates my nostrils and I wake up congested and coughing. Usually rip it off a couple hours before I wake up. Wouldn't concentrated oxygen make more sense than just forced air if oxygen levels are the problem?

    Reply
    • Danielle Jason

      Thank you for your comment, Kate. That is a question we would recommend you speak with your doctor regarding. If you currently feel your oxygen levels are dropping and you are not able to use your CPAP comfortably you may want to explore some other solutions with your dedicated physician.

      Reply
      • Steve

        Even though your answers or informative you really don’t answer the question you keep referring back to the position.
        Michael Jackson slept in an oxygen tank.
        If you could afford the oxygen option that go into your nostrils when it that have the same affect as a CPAP? I cannot wear the CPAP mask I’m non-compliant but I wear a fit bit and see that I wake up constantly throughout the night I’ve taken multiple sleep tests and they recommend the CPAP why don’t they recommend the nose inserted oxygen oxygen is better for your brain and continuous airflow that just keeps your throat open I would have rather have my brain and Hanst while my throat is open but I understand it cost five times this much but I’m OK with that.
        So do people use And oxygen machine in place of a CPAP and that you keep your throat open and feed you oxygen which I would imagine would help your brain

        Reply
        • Danielle Jason

          Thank you for your question, Steve. An oxygen concentrator does not preform the same medical functions as a CPAP machine as they are two different pieces of equipment used for separate medical conditions. A CPAP machine is used to keep your airways open with the force of air you're referring to, however, the air produced to keep your airways open is NOT concentrated oxygen, it is simply ambient air. It is important to note that a CPAP machine does not produce oxygen nor provide any for the wearer. If you medically require an oxygen concentrator due to your blood oxygen levels, you may need an oxygen therapy device such as an oxygen concentrator that would produce oxygen and benefit your brain function, among many other things. It is possible to use both a CPAP machine in conjunction with an oxygen machine should your medical needs require this. We suggest, as always, speaking to your doctor regarding your concerns and possible solutions.

          Reply
  • Vicky

    I have a CPAP ,my setting is 14 . When I get up in the morning I have a lot of flem to bring up also my nose runs crazy. What can I do ?

    Reply
    • Danielle Jason

      Thank you for your comment, Vicky. This is a question you'll want to inquire with your doctor regarding. Your individual doctor will have the insight into your current and previous medical history to best assist you in finding a solution.

      Reply
    • Barbara Krause

      Hi Vicky! I had the same problem. Same setting of 14...runny nose and caused me to sneeze for a day. Talked with my doctor and asked if I could lower setting to 10. He reset my machine and I haven't had any problems since. Also, if your machine has a humidifier, try not using it. I have the Resmed S10 and I got the heated tube to keep the air warm and I don't put any water in the tank. It works great to me. Good luck!

      Reply
  • Teresa b seitz

    What is your title or credentials?

    Reply
    • Danielle Jason

      Thank you for your comment, Teresa. Here at the Oxygen Concentrator Store by American Medical Sales and Rentals we have been an industry leader for over 17 years. We are proud to be one of the oldest and most experienced retailers in America. We pride ourselves on our ACHC accreditation with the Accreditation Commission for Health Care and currently hold a national BBB (Better Business Bureau) A+ rating.

      Reply
  • Ankit shah

    If i have severe asthama what should i buy bipap cpap or oxygen concentrator?

    Reply
    • Danielle Jason

      Thank you for your question, Ankit. That is not something we can answer for you as this is a question for your doctor. Depending on your individual past and present medical history, you may be prescribed solutions other than what you have listed above. Please consult your doctor.

      Reply
  • Dan De Ment

    I have a BPAP machine but can not use it as I have a chronic sinus condition and my nose runs a great deal. The BPAP is set at three (3) and the moisture that comes into my nose makes me feel like I'm drowning. Help!

    Reply
    • Danielle Jason

      Thank you for your comment, Dan. I am asumming you use a humidifier bottle? Have you tried using it without the bottle? This will eliminate the excess moisture coming in.

      Reply
  • Martha thompson
    Martha thompson April 22, 2018 at 8:51 am

    Using an oxygen concentrator at night for a COPD patient, but he breathes through his mouth most of the time.
    Is he still getting enough oxygen?

    Reply
    • Margaret Goodman
      Margaret Goodman April 23, 2018 at 5:31 am

      We recommend that you speak with your doctor. They can perform the right tests to access if he is getting the correct amount of oxygen.

      Reply
  • mkansas

    is there such a device using the oxygen concentrator tubes to use on a cpap machine? i cannot keep the cpap face mask on no matter how many mask i tried and it is off when i wake up. thank you

    Reply
    • Margaret Goodman
      Margaret Goodman April 23, 2018 at 6:27 am

      Unfortunately, CPAP tubes are as large as they are to maintain pressure, regular cannula tubing is too small in diameter to create the air pressures that a CPAP uses to maintain an open airway and prevent apneas. I would consult with your doctor to see if there is another solution that may work for you.

      Reply
  • Sonya

    I have no health issues but I want some kind of oxygen machine because I want to breathe more oxygen at night (I heard it's good for you, gives you energy the next day, gives you brain power, etc.) Are these machines only medically prescribed or can anyone get one? Also, are oxygen concentrators more expensive than CPAPs?

    Reply
    • Margaret Goodman
      Margaret Goodman June 4, 2018 at 3:23 am

      Oxygen concentrators and CPAP machine are medical devices and therefore require a prescription for purchase. If you feel like you need oxygen please consult with your doctor.

      Reply
  • Pay

    It seems to me a cpap and oxygen concentrator serve the same function. Both blowing air through a filter .. The settings are different.

    Reply
    • Margaret Goodman
      Margaret Goodman June 4, 2018 at 3:47 am

      The big difference is that a CPAP machine pushes a constant stream of air into the airways and not concentrated oxygen. Any oxygen concentrator provides medical grade oxygen.

      Reply
  • Lydia Annis

    I have tried ever CPAP mask offered and I can’t keep it on any longer the 3 Hours before I rip it off my face in the middle of the night...Would wearing just an oxygen nasal cannula and using a concentrator HELP in any way?

    Reply
    • Margaret Goodman
      Margaret Goodman July 17, 2018 at 10:34 am

      This is something that you will need to consult with your doctor about. Using oxygen in place of a CPAP mask will not give you the same result. The purpose of a CPAP is to open up your airway but not to provide oxygen. An oxygen concentrator doesn't open your airways it only provides oxygen.

      Reply
  • Elizabeth

    I have severe apnea and just received machine but the nose pillow mask is not cutting it for me. I take abuterol for asthma and have lots of phelm and always waking up to spit and feeling congestions as if I have a bad cold what are my options at this point?.. I've been hiv for 25yrs still dealing with aches and body pain. Do you recommend getting into an oxygen machine that's available to kill all viruses being that nothing can't live in a pure Oxygen environment...any information or recommendation

    Reply
    • Margaret Goodman

      There are a number of mask styles available for sleep apnea. You will need to try them out to see what works best for you. We suggest talking with your doctor about the type of oxygen machine you might want to move in to. I have also passed your info on to an oxygen specialist who will reach out to you to discuss your needs. For more immediate assistance feel free to give our specialists a call at 888-360-9628 or if you prefer email [email protected]

      Reply
  • Linda

    I am having sinus surgery and am VERY anxious about only being able to breathe through my mouth. Has anyone found an oxygen concentrator to be helpful ?

    Reply

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