When people think of portable oxygen, a traditional large oxygen tank often comes to mind. These tanks are generally made of steel or aluminum and the oxygen comes in the form of pressurized gas, which needs to be handled with care and kept upright. The size of the tank gets larger as the flow rate that a patient requires increases. These tanks are usually quite heavy, have to be changed frequently, and the pressure valves attached to the tanks must be checked consistently. The gas oxygen inside the tank is delivered at 100% concentration.
Sometimes oxygen tanks contain liquid oxygen, which allows for a smaller, lighter tank. Smaller, portable tanks can be filled with the oxygen from the larger tanks for use outside of the home. Liquid oxygen is also delivered at a concentration of 100%. In addition, liquid oxygen can be delivered at a higher rate of flow for a much longer period of time than a gas system. However, liquid oxygen is much more expensive than gas. Like gas, liquid oxygen tanks need to be kept level. Sometimes a bottle is attached to the tank to collect water vapor, which needs to be emptied and cleaned as necessary.
Traditional tanks that contain compressed or liquid gas are advantageous because they do not need to be plugged into an electrical outlet. Instead, oxygen is released based on the pressure coming from the tank. However, they must be replaced as they empty out.
Concentrators differ significantly from traditional oxygen tanks. While large units are available for home use, concentrators also come in much smaller sizes and can weigh quite a bit less than a standard tank. Oxygen concentrators work by converting air in the surrounding area into concentrated oxygen. They deliver air via continuous or intermittent flow. Continuous flow oxygen concentrators provide a consistent amount of oxygen regardless of how many times a patient breathes per minute. Due to the fact that they deliver a specific amount of oxygen per minute, oxygen concentrators are usually recommended for patients that require a lower flow of oxygen.
Oxygen units do not require refilling. This is a major advantage, because the user doesn’t have to be concerned with changing the tank when the oxygen runs out, as with a traditional tank. They do, however, require a power source. Oxygen concentrators are battery powered, and come with adapters so that they can be plugged into a car or run on AC or DC power. These units can be a little louder than you're used to, but can be set up in a separate room with a length of tubing that allows the patient mobility around the home.
Portable oxygen concentrators allow patients much more mobility than a traditional tank due to the concentrator’s significant difference in size and weight. In addition, patients who require continuous oxygen or a high flow rate will find concentrators advantageous because they never run out of oxygen.
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 can fit under a seat or in an overhead compartment.
When choosing between a traditional oxygen tank and a standard or portable concentrator, there are many things to take into consideration. These include how much oxygen the patient has been prescribed, how often he or she will leave home and what types of activities will be engaged in. You should also consider how much the unit weighs and balance that with personal strength so that the oxygen tank or concentrator can be moved with ease when necessary. Finally, you may want to choose a system that can grow with you if you anticipate that your oxygen needs may increase in the future.