Taking easy, full breaths is something many of us take for granted. However, for those with chronic respiratory conditions like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), breathing can be a daily struggle. An oxygen concentrator is a device that can provide much-needed relief. This article will explore what an oxygen concentrator is, who uses it, and how it dramatically improves quality of life.
What is an Oxygen Concentrator?
An oxygen concentrator is an electrical device that concentrates oxygen from room air. It filters out nitrogen and other gases, leaving an oxygen-enriched product for delivery to the end user.
Oxygen concentrators work via the process of pressure swing adsorption. Air is drawn into sieve beds filled with zeolite, a mineral that attracts nitrogen. As the nitrogen molecules adhere to the zeolite, the remaining air passes through, thus increasing its oxygen concentration. Once one sieve bed becomes saturated, the airflow switches to another so the first can reset and start the cycle again. This switching between beds happens rapidly and ensures a continuous supply of oxygen.
Most oxygen concentrators are stationary, meaning they are not easily portable. However, some portable models exist as well. These concentrators typically have lower weight and size, along with battery options. They provide flexibility for active users who need oxygen on the go.
Who Uses Oxygen Concentrators?
The most common condition requiring supplemental oxygen is COPD, which encompasses chronic bronchitis and emphysema. COPD causes increasing breathlessness and airflow limitation over time, making everyday tasks difficult. Using prescribed oxygen from a concentrator provides the extra support these patients need.
Beyond COPD, other conditions may also call for added oxygen:
- Severe asthma
- Pulmonary fibrosis
- Cystic fibrosis
- Pulmonary hypertension
- Heart failure
Oxygen concentrators may be used while sleeping, resting, or during activity when symptoms flare up. The device’s portability also suits the needs of ambulatory patients. Overall, oxygen concentrators allow patients with chronic lung illness to breathe more easily.
Benefits of Oxygen Concentrators
Oxygen concentrators offer several key advantages over traditional oxygen tanks:
As mentioned, most units are reasonably portable and do not limit mobility. Tanks require refilling, while concentrators need an outlet to plug into. This makes them more convenient for everyday use, especially when leaving the home.
Buying repeated tank refills gets expensive over time. Concentrators only require electricity to run, saving money in the long run. Most insurance plans also cover a portion, if not all, costs.
High-pressure oxygen tanks can be hazardous if valves fail or a tank is dropped. Concentrators carry less risk given the lower pressure oxygen they supply directly to patients.
Concentrators supply a constant flow of oxygen at the prescribed rate. Tanks can occasionally run empty before needing a refill. Patients using a concentrator can feel confident in the steady stream of oxygen.
Multi-user oxygen tanks run a slight risk of passing illness between patients. Using a personal concentrator eliminates this concern.
What to Look For in an Oxygen Concentrator
If considering an oxygen concentrator, keep the following aspects in mind:
Prescribed Flow Rate
A doctor must assess the required flow rate in litres per minute matched to the severity of the illness. Most units supply 0.5 to 5 litres per minute. Select one meeting prescribed needs.
Size and Weight
Assess portability requirements to choose between stationary or portable models. Even transportable ones average 50-70 pounds, so consider the physical ability to move the unit.
Stationary concentrators need an electrical outlet. Portable versions should have battery capability lasting at least 2-3 hours before recharging.
Select a unit with a warranty of 3-5 years. This safeguards against early device failures or technical problems.
Verify the concentrator meets industry safety and quality standards. Units should bear a seal of approval from organisations like the FDA.
Some concentrators need more high oxygen flow requirements above 5 litres per minute. This may necessitate a supplemental bottled oxygen system.
Easy touch screens or buttons to control flow settings are essential for patients with limited mobility or visual issues. An alert for power loss or system failure also provides safety.
Bringing Breathing Relief Home
Oxygen concentrator brands play an invaluable role in managing chronic respiratory illness. They provide round-the-clock oxygen access without relying on repeat tank refills in the comfort of one’s home. Concentrators grant freedom to patients — freedom to breathe, to move, and to regain quality of life. While not a cure, they certainly make each breath a little lighter.