Using Oxygen Concentrators at High Altitudes

The higher you go above sea level, the thinner the air gets and less oxygen is available for you to breathe. Mountain climbers know this, and will take oxygen equipment with them when they are climbing to altitudes near 5,000 feet, which is where the lack of oxygen starts to get dangerous. When we aren't getting enough oxygen, especially when our bodies are being pushed to the limit (like during mountain or rock climbing), we can become very ill.

Fish need a certain amount of oxygen in the water to breathe. In a fish tank, they depend on the air pump to bring in the oxygen, since they are living in a small space and not the open water. If the air pump breaks, the amount of oxygen in the tank depletes quickly and the fish will become sick and die. When you are climbing higher and higher up a mountain, the level of oxygen around you is decreasing, and you are like the fish losing oxygen. Unless you do something to make up for that lack of this life-giving gas, you will be in trouble.

What is Altitude Sickness?

If you have lived at sea level or in areas that are flat and non-mountainous, you will have a hard time adjusting to much higher altitudes. Altitude Sickness is caused by lack of oxygen in the air and lowered air pressure at higher altitudes. This is even harder for people with certain medical conditions, or people who have a lung disease who already have a difficult time breathing. If you make your way up to higher altitudes very slowly, your body will have time to adjust.

If you ascend very quickly, you can get Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS). The symptoms of AMS include nausea and vomiting, difficulty sleeping, fatigue, headache and dizziness. When the condition is severe, you can see a bluish color on the skin (cyanosis), confusion, dizziness and coughing up blood. If someone with these symptoms isn't treated quickly, AMS can result in death from the fluid that has built up in the lungs.

Why You Should Have a Portable Oxygen Concentrator

Oxygen concentrators are much more convenient because they don't require oxygen tanks. If you are traveling and visiting high altitudes, you won't want to have to carry a bunch of oxygen tanks with you, and worry about continuously changing them out when they are empty. An oxygen concentrator will also save you money in the long run because you won't have to refill any tanks. They work by filtering pure oxygen from the air around it, so that you can breathe it in. You will need a prescription from your doctor before ordering your oxygen concentrator.

A portable oxygen concentrator is lightweight and can be worn in a pack on your back, so it will be perfect for taking with you while you travel in higher altitudes or do some climbing. Portable oxygen concentrators are made to keep working just as well at 13,000 or more, as they do at sea level. For this reason, they are also great for airline travel.

10 thoughts on “Using Oxygen Concentrators at High Altitudes”

  • Curious

    So these devices can definitely increase the O2 saturation at altitude. would think as altitude increases, the ability to equally concentrate to the same degree would decrease

    • scottamsr

      They are developed to work harder at higher altitudes so the oxygen output it the same at any altitude. Please let us know if you have any other questions.

  • Sammy Gill

    This is tricky - as you do not inform that level of acclimatization should be there if you have want to use cylinder - because as soon as you unhook - lungs wont be able to function again unless altitude has been decreased.
    Feeding lungs high concentration of O2 and then stopping and expecting them to work normal will be big mistake - lungs do not work like this. You have to reduce altitude - this is why cyclinders are used in EVEREST in top section and climber do not use when he descends !

  • joem207

    how high can i go if the oxygen was pumped into a sealed helmet and a co2 scrubber was attached? this is for high altitude balloon type use.

  • Jim Green

    I'm a dialysis patient for 1.5 years now. I was born with one kidney, genetic colon cancer, had colon removed age 19, have another cancer now. Never got to climbing, actually afraid of heights, pathetic. I surfed, skied, even off Cronus at mammoth, but looking over edge at Grand Canyon gave my legs the weak willies. But I love the stories and guts of all climbers. Recently, we finally figured for some reason my pulse oximeter will read as low as 81. I'm getting tests and O 2 now. Anyway, do climbers use oxegen concentrator like the new 2.8 pound Inogen O2 comcentrator for climbing? If so, when did they start? If not, why not? Seems like even a bigger portable machine with a solar panel for power, guess you have generators too, you could refill oxygen bottles at least? Thanks for answereing an ignorant former athlete.

    • Danielle Jason
      Danielle Jason May 22, 2017 at 2:32 am

      Hello Jim, thank you for your comment. We have many patients who continue their athletic hobbies using their portable oxygen concentrators. If you'd like you can give us a call at 877-774-9271 to further discuss which unit is right for your needs, hobbies, and lifestyle.

  • Don Stanwyck

    a) The article says mountain climbers start to use oxygen at 5,000 feet; is that a typo? The mountaineers I know don't start using O2 until they pass 15,000 feet.
    b) the concentrators I've looked at are only designed for use up to 10,000 feet. Which concentrators do you recommend that could be used in a non-pressurized aircraft to 25,000 feet?

    • Danielle Jason

      Thank you for your comment, Don. Yes, many of our mountain climbing oxygen users do require oxygen at 5,000 feet as they are not professionals and often have breathing related illnesses that require them to have oxygen at the earlier stages of altitude changes. As for your second question, unfortunately we do not carry any units that can be used at 25,000 feet. Currently, our SeQual Eclipse 5 is our most altitude friendly unit able to reach a maximum working altitude of 13,123 feet.

  • Sheila

    Why is it necessary to have a prescription?

    • Danielle Jason

      Thank you for your comment, Sheila. A prescription is required by your physician due to the fact that they will need to asses your current and past medical history to determine which setting is required for your individual lifestyle and conidition.


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