If you or your loved one require supplemental oxygen, you must be somewhat familiar with an oxygen concentrator. This is a medical device used to treat breathing-related conditions like cystic fibrosis (CF) and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). A few years back, oxygen concentrators used to be stationary and heavy. But now, thanks to technology, these devices are smaller, compact, and portable. They are equipped with heavy-duty batteries, making them highly efficient whether you travel a lot or stay at home. The problem is, not all oxygen concentrators on the market are designed equally, and knowing the right type for you can be quite challenging. Luckily, we did the research for you to help make your selection easier. So, sit back and relax as we tell you everything you need to know about oxygen concentrators.
How Oxygen Concentrators Work
All oxygen concentrators, whether home or portable, take air from the atmosphere and convert it into a concentrated source of oxygen. Typically, the air we breathe consists of approximately 78 percent Nitrogen, 21 percent Oxygen, and one percent Argon. These devices separate the Oxygen from the other two elements to supply up to 95 percent oxygen, subsequently increasing the oxygen concentration in the patient’s blood. Unlike portable oxygen concentrators (POC) which output limited oxygen, home oxygen concentrators or stationary concentrators have higher capacities and are great options for those who don’t want to worry about tank refills. However, due to their size and bigger design, you can only use them when you're at home. Most portable units are pulse dose oxygen concentrators, but you can find a few continuous flow oxygen concentrators that are capable of delivering up to three liters per minute of concentrated oxygen on continuous flow.
Pulse Flow vs. Continuous Flow
You probably are wondering what pulse flow and continuous flow mean? Well, Pulse dose oxygen concentrators are designed to deliver small doses of oxygen. That is, they only put out oxygen when you inhale. Because of this, manufacturers can design them into smaller devices that weigh in at around five pounds or less. They even come with shoulder straps or backpacks for ease of portability. Pulse flow delivers between 450 ml per minute to 1250 ml per minute of concentrated oxygen in short pulses. Due to their limited capacity, they are recommended for patients who don’t a high demand for oxygen. Pulse flows are easily portable and new models offer a long battery life. Continuous flow units, on the other hand, put out a steady and consistent flow of oxygen that gives the user the required level of Oxygen concentration. These units can be quite heavy, with some weighing up to 18 pounds. In most cases, they have to be transported using a cart.
Choosing the Right Oxygen Concentrator
Despite being easy to move around, portable units may not serve your oxygen needs. You may want to use it when traveling only and use the home oxygen concentrator while you're at home. Therefore, before you choose either a pulse or continuous flow oxygen concentrator, it is important to know your oxygen requirements. Plus, not all units can be used during sleep. So you might want to get your doctor's approval first before getting the machine. Here are a few considerations to keep in mind:
As we mentioned earlier, continuous flow units deliver the same amount of oxygen regardless of your breath rate. For example, if you take 20 breaths per minute and the unit delivers three liters per minute of oxygen, then that is exactly what you will get each minute. Pulse flow units, on the other hand, deliver different amounts of oxygen per minute, depending on your settings. While some units deliver between 250 ml to 750 ml per minute, others are capable of delivering between two liters to 10 liters per minute.
Will you be moving a lot? If yes, then a portable oxygen concentrator will be more suitable than a home oxygen concentrator. The smaller the unit, the more portable it is. Most of the portable units weigh less, but might not be capable of delivering higher flow rates. So, while they are convenient, these units are suitable for patients who do not require high oxygen flow rates.
Different oxygen concentrators have varying noise levels. High powered units, for example, can be quite noisy while in use since they require higher power to deliver high oxygen flow rates. The smaller and advanced portable units, on the other hand, are very quiet when operating.
To Consider Before Your Purchase
Keep in mind that the battery life of pulse flow units is advertised for use in the lowest setting. That means you should calculate how long it can last when you use the oxygen setting recommended by your doctors. You might also want to consider ease of use. New models come with additional features that make the unit more effective. However, this might also mean a complicated user interface and more confusion. Therefore, review the additional features and how easy they are to operate.
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