What Is a Portable Oxygen Concentrator? Ultimate Guide

Curious about what is a portable oxygen concentrator? We listed everything you should know in this post so you won't have to look elsewhere.

Before we discuss this further, let's answer the main question first.

What Is a Portable Oxygen Concentrator?

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A portable oxygen concentrator is a transportable device that you can bring anywhere whenever you need a supply of oxygen. People with breathing problems mainly use this. They do not require constant refilling, making it convenient for those people on the go.

They work well, just like a regular oxygen concentrator at home. However, you cannot expect them to provide the same oxygen concentration levels. To further understand how they work, keep on reading.

What Does a Portable Oxygen Concentrator Look Like?

Portable oxygen concentrators come in various shapes, colors, and sizes depending on which brand they carry and their model. Generally, they are not more than knee-high and have a box-like structure.

Despite these minor differences, all of its components are still the same. First, all portable oxygen concentrators have a setting panel where the following controls are located:

  • On/Off switch
  • A knob to adjust the flow rate based on your prescription
  • Alarm indicator that alerts the user if the device is close to losing power.

All units have replaceable intake filters as well, and it needs to be cleaned and reattached to the machine if it gets too saturated.

The device usually has two additional fittings or jacks, primarily for:

  • Oxygen outlet for the nasal cannula or mask
  • Plug-in power source

Most portable medical devices have built-in rechargeable batteries to maximize convenience when you are out and about. Before you purchase a portable oxygen concentrator, be sure that you understand well how it works so you won't be confused with its electronic controls.

Other than those, an oxygen concentrator consists of a compressor, an oxygen tank, two sieve bed filters, a pressure valve, and a tool that transports the purified oxygen toward the user, which can be a mask or a nasal tube. 

As mentioned above, portable oxygen concentrators do not require refilling. They can provide pure oxygen for 24 hours a day with constant flow. Aside from that, they can also deliver oxygen from anywhere between 5 to 10 liters per minute (LPM). 

What Are the Uses for A Portable Oxygen Concentrator?

Portable oxygen concentrators are more important than you think. We all breathe in oxygen; it's a part of us. There are some ways that you can utilize these portable devices, including:

1. Provide oxygen therapy for seniors

Senior citizens are most susceptible to experiencing problems in breathing and other complications related to oxygen levels in the body. Aging often comes with decreased organ function, like the lungs, and they will be required to have supplemental oxygen to help with their conditions.

Prescribing oxygen therapy to senior citizens can increase their alertness, activity level, and outlook in life. 

2. Help with breathing problems

This is the most known use of oxygen concentrators, as they can ultimately help in different breathing problems, be it mild, moderate, or severe. Oxygen concentrators can help open the airways and allow air to pass through smoothly.

3. Speed up COVID-19 recovery

The first thing the COVID-19 infection affects is a person's lungs and breathing. It causes pneumonia, infecting both lungs and filling the air sacs with fluid. This contributes to shortness of breath, uncontrollable coughing, and other related symptoms.

Portable oxygen concentrators can help ease this problem, given that the case is mild to moderate, and can decrease the need for invasive ventilation treatments. 

4. Managing blood oxygen levels

Your blood oxygen level is a significant factor in how well your heart, lungs, and the circulatory system works. Typically, 95% to 100% is considered healthy, and anything lower than that may indicate underlying problems. This range shows that almost all of your red blood cells carry oxygen toward your tissues and cells.

For those people with problems with their blood oxygen levels, concentrators are used to help balance that. 

Who Needs a Portable Oxygen Concentrator?

People with difficulty in breathing are the ones who typically use oxygen concentrators. Oxygen therapy is proven to help with various issues related to breathing. This is done under medical guidance, especially for those with around 90% to 94% oxygen saturation levels.

take note that it is not recommended for hospital use, but it works for people with the following breathing problems:

1. Moderately ill patients

Moderately ill patients are the ones that do not precisely require high oxygen support, as portable oxygen concentrators can only supply limited amounts of purified oxygen at a time.

2. COVID patients

The majority of the people infected with COVID-19 suffer from breathing difficulties, and it has been proven that the use of oxygen concentration has a significant effect on recovering patients. 

According to a study in 2020, supplementary oxygen can aid COVID-19 patients with moderate symptoms of 5-6 liters of LPM. You can observe the flow using pulse oximetry, as it monitors the arterial oxygen content greater than 88%.

Patients who show desaturation of less than 88% over long periods are to increase oxygen supply through a non-rebreathing mask. In some cases, they will be required to have 10 to 15 liters of oxygen per minute.

Portable oxygen concentrators have a flow rate of 5 to 10 liters per minute, covering the required flow rate for recovering COVID-19 patients. Keep in mind that this device is not entirely recommended for oxygen therapy for severe COVID-19 patients. Still, it can help in decreasing the time of clinical recovery. 

3. Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease

People with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) need as much extra supply of oxygen as they can get. Most of them are even anxious about traveling and doing everyday activities since they need to bring oxygen tanks with them. 

This is where portable oxygen tanks enter the picture. These devices utilize the air from the room and convert that into pure oxygen, eliminating nitrogen and other gases as it goes through the sieve beds of the concentrator.

They are lightweight, do not require refilling, and are compact enough that it's easy to bring anywhere without getting everyone's attention. Most of these machines run on batteries that can run for more than 12 hours or are rechargeable, so there's no need to change. Some units may even have AC/DC adapters that you can plug into any outlet or car during any trip. 

4. Lung Cancer

People with lung cancer often experience dyspnea or shortness of breath. This may be due to a tumor growing in the lungs, disease complications, secondary infections, or an effect of particular cancer treatment. In this case, this oxygen portable machine is handy. 

During their therapy, oxygen supply is a necessity. It may be a short-term treatment or everyday support; it varies from one person's condition to another. Most significantly, people with low blood oxygen levels are recommended to take oxygen therapy. If you have this problem, then consult your medical provider to see if you are fit to use this method.

Portable oxygen concentrators are great machines to supply adequate oxygen levels for patients with such a lung disease and help them breathe better throughout their treatment. 

5. Asthma

People with asthma are more than familiar with nebulizers, as they use these machines to open their airways during one of their attacks. In these situations, doctors usually prescribe oxygen if the attacks happen more frequently.

Severe asthma patients are advised to undergo oxygen therapy, but this treatment will require significant lifestyle adjustments. Of course, the case differs for every person. Some will be required to use oxygen while they sleep or doing active tasks, while some will be necessary to use it constantly throughout the day.

Supplemental oxygen is incredibly effective in supplying extra oxygen to your lungs. It also makes it easier to open the airways and reduces the harmful effects of lacking oxygen on your overall health. 

Portable oxygen concentrators are compact and lightweight devices that are easy to use whenever you go. The good thing about this oxygen breathing machine portable is that you don't have to plug them into an outlet if you want to use them. You can bring them when you are traveling, meeting up with a friend, running an errand, and anything else.

How Does a Portable Oxygen Concentrator Work?

Portable oxygen concentrators are engineered to process the surrounding air and turn that into pure oxygen of at least 90% to 98% by eliminating the nitrogen, carbon dioxide, methane, and other gases alongside other pollutants and harmful agents. 

Such concentrator oxygen portable machines can produce oxygen-rich air and supply that to anyone in need, especially if the oxygen levels in the blood are low. 

To get a full view of what is a portable oxygen machine, let's understand how they work:

  • The machine pulls air from the surrounding room
  • The air is then compressed by one of the two sieve bed filters inside the device, where the nitrogen and other gases in the air are absorbed.
  • Once the oxygen concentration levels come to 95% of pure oxygen, it will be ready to supply to the user.
  • The user must adjust the setting following the prescribed flow rate by their medical provider. 
  • The purified air is then supplied using a mask or a nasal cannula. The oxygen delivery may vary depending on your type of concentrator, either continuous flow or pulse dose. 
  • Aside from aiding you with your breathing problems, portable concentrators make everyday activities more manageable, even if an oxygen provider is connected. Large tanks are hard to transport and will be costly in the long run due to the constant refilling. They work just the same and will allow you to enjoy the things you love doing. 

    What Is the Difference Between Continuous and On-Demand (pulse) Flow?

    There are two different kinds of portable oxygen concentrators: continuous flow and on-demand flow (also known as pulse flow). Both are great devices that can help you with your breathing problems, but there are situations where one might be the better option.

    Let’s check out this table:

    Continuous Flow

    On-demand (Pulse) Flow

    Best for

    People who aren't as active

    Patients who breathe through their mouths

    People who have high activity levels

    Pros

    Provides a constant flow of oxygen

    Great oxygen supply when sleeping

    Senses your breathing

    More portable than continuous flow units

    Better battery life

    Cons

    Do not store oxygen

    Tends to be bulkier

    Difficulty to detect shallow breaths, especially when sleeping


    Continuous Flow

    Continuous flow oxygen concentrators are recommended for patients who do not often participate in inactive affairs. Most home use concentrators only offer continuous flow, and people who usually breathe through their mounts will benefit the most from this oxygen machine.

    Another good thing about continuous flow is that it helps people who experience difficulty sleeping at night due to oxygen problems. On-demand flow can have difficulty detecting shallow breathing people do when they sleep, resulting in frequent alarms throughout the night. Over time, it will become a problem as it can prevent you from having a good sleep, resulting in other health conditions. 

    Continuous flow offers an uninterrupted supply of oxygen to maintain a healthy blood level, given that the user is not particularly active in any kind of physical activity. 

    On-Demand Flow

    On-demand flow concentrator devices sense your breathing and base the oxygen flow on your current breathing pattern. These machines are recommended for people who often participate in high-level activities. They can pulse oxygen even if you are in the middle of something, be it an exercise, sport, or a simple jog in the morning.

    This device tends to be more portable and lightweight as well, in comparison to continuous flow units. They can store unused oxygen if your breathing is low and steady and use that later if you need a higher flow rate. Another thing is that pulse flow machines are often built with better battery life, so you can stay out longer without the need to plug it in. 

    Advantages of Portable Oxygen Concentrator

    Portable oxygen concentrators are great machines and pose no danger, unlike traditional concentrators. It creates clean air, and users need not worry about refilling and having to plan oxygen supply for weeks. 

    One of its primary advantages is its mobility. Compact oxygen concentrators are easy to bring anywhere and plug them in on outlets usually available wherever you go. Other than that, these are some additional benefits of these devices:

    • They are easy to use and operate
    • Allows you to have a good night's sleep without interruption
    • Increases your stamina and immunity

    Portable Oxygen Concentrator vs Home Oxygen Concentrators

    Both portable and home oxygen concentrators and designed to aid patients with oxygen therapy. However, they still have some differences that may affect your purchasing decision and which one works best for your lifestyle.

    For the comparison, refer to this table:

    Portable Oxygen Concentrator

    Home Oxygen Concentrators

    What is it

    Wearable device that you can bring anywhere

    Stationary machines that are best to use in home use

    Who it is for

    For people with active lifestyle and spends majority of the day outside

    For people who often stay at home and do not participate in high level activities

    Features

    • Compact
    • Wearable
    • Mostly use on-demand flow rate
    • Mostly utilizes continuous flow rate
    • Up to 10 LPM output
    • AC power supply

    Pros

    • Transportable
    • Good for travelling
    • Stores unused oxygen supply
    • Can supply more liters per minute
    • Great for sleeping
    • Cost-effective

    Cons

    • Supplies less LPM
    • More expensive
    • Difficult to travel with
    • Can only run with AC power supply

    Portable Oxygen Concentrator vs Oxygen Tank

    Portable oxygen concentrators and oxygen tanks work similarly: they provide oxygen to patients who have difficulty getting it on their own. However, their structure and overall design may be a significant factor in which one is the better option.

    To compare, let's look at the table below:

    Portable Oxygen Concentrator

    Oxygen Tanks

    What is it

    A portable device 

    Metal tanks that contain pressurized oxygen

    Who it is for

    People with mild to moderate conditions

    People with severe conditions

    Features

    Compact

    Wearable

    Wheel-based device

    Mounted on trolley

    Pros

    Unlimited oxygen supply

    Lightweight

    Versatile

    One-time payment

    No power needed

    Silent

    Low initial cost

    Cons

    Power supply/Battery required

    Noisy

    Expensive

    Needs refilling

    Heavy

    Limited content


    Portable Oxygen Concentrator vs Hyperbaric Chamber

    A hyperbaric chamber is a tube in which a person suffering from breathing problems is placed to allow the lungs to gather as much oxygen as possible. Aside from that, this type of oxygen therapy can also treat other conditions like infections and physical injuries.

    Some claim that hyperbaric chamber oxygen therapy can also treat HIV/AIDS, autism, cancer, and Alzheimer's disease, but there is no concrete evidence to support this.

    To compare the portable oxygen concentrator and hyperbaric chamber, refer to the table below:

    Portable Oxygen Concentrator

    Hyperbaric chamber

    What is it

    A portable device

    A pressurized oxygen chamber

    Who it is for

    For people who with constant need of oxygen support

    For people suffering from injuries, burns, infections, and serious wounds

    Features

    Wearable

    Compact

    A chamber

    Provides thrice as much oxygen than normal air pressure

    Pros

    Easy to transport anywhere

    Convenient

    Lightweight

    Can be used to treat patients with various diseases

    Provides extra oxygen to the blood, organs, and body tissue

    Cons

    Limited oxygen supply

    Bulky

    Cannot be transported anywhere

    Requires hospital visit


    Portable Oxygen Concentrator vs High Flow Oxygen

    High Flow Oxygen is more powerful than portable oxygen concentrators. It is of a different mixture and is only administered to people in which the traditional oxygen therapy is not working anymore. They are mostly used in hospitals and often used to treat several complications that you cannot treat with oxygen therapy.

    Look at the table below to see the difference between a portable oxygen concentrator and high flow oxygen:

    Portable Oxygen Concentrator

    High Flow Oxygen

    What is it

    Portable device

    A mixture of heated and humidified oxygen 

    Who it is for

    People with mild to moderate breathing problems

    For people that traditional oxygen therapy won’t work

    Features

    Wearable

    Lightweight

    Bulky

    Used for respiratory distress

    Pros

    Transportable

    Convenient

    Good for travelling

    Can deliver high flow rates of oxygen

    Can help with severe breathing problems like acute heart failure, bronchiectasis, pulmonary oedema, chest trauma, and more

    Cons

    Limited oxygen supply

    Not transportable

    Expensive

    Only used for serious breathing-related problems


    Portable Oxygen Concentrator vs Ventilator

    Portable oxygen concentrators supply far less oxygen than a ventilator. A ventilator is used for situations where the person is experiencing respiratory failure. This condition is considered severe and life-threatening, especially when paired with other complications like COVID-19.

    To know more about the difference between the two, refer to the table below:

    Portable Oxygen Concentrator

    Home Oxygen Concentrators

    What is it

    Portable device

    Breathing machine

    Who it is for

    For people with mild breathing problems

    For people with respiratory failure

    Features

    Wearable

    Lightweight

    Controls how often air is pushed to your lungs 

    Pros

    Convenient for travelling

    Can be used while doing other activities

    Can help manage long-term illness

    Cons

    Limited oxygen supply

    Cannot support more than 10 LPM flow rate

    Increases the risk of pneumonia and vocal cord damage


    How Do I Know if A Portable Oxygen Concentrator Will Work for Me?

    The first thing you need to check before choosing an oxygen concentrator is whether it can control your oxygen saturation while at rest, walking, and sleeping. The level should remain between 88% to 90%, and anywhere lower than 88% during your rest and exercise means that the device you are using is not enough.

    Your doctor will then write you a prescription based on the oxygen testing. You should also have a pulse oximeter at home to monitor your oxygen saturation while traveling and doing your everyday tasks.

    Keep in touch with your trusted medical provider, and tell them everything that has happened during the first weeks of your use. Monitor your oxygen saturation and write that down so you have a record of presenting on your next check-up. 

    How to Choose a Portable Oxygen Concentrator for Your Needs?

    There are many choices available in the market today for portable oxygen concentrators, but how are you going to ensure that you are only getting the best? These are some of the factors you should consider before buying one:

    Battery life

    If your primary concern is independence and mobility, you would want to choose a higher battery life machine that will not require constant charging outside your home. Most concentrator devices have batteries that can last for four to five hours. Anything higher than that is a great option. 

    Portability

    Although portable oxygen concentrators are already compact, there are still some that might be too heavy to bring anywhere. You can choose wearable units if you don't like carrying a bulky machine, especially while you are traveling. 

    Oxygen concentration

    The concentration of oxygen may vary for each device. Before choosing one, you understand your doctor's prescription and the level of oxygen concentration required for your case. 

    Flow rate

    This is the most significant factor when choosing which concentrator to purchase. You should depend on your doctor's advice. Some machines have a lower flow rate than others. Before settling the purchase, you must check a particular unit's flow rate. 

    3 Best Portable Oxygen Concentrator Brands

    After consulting your doctor, they can give you a prescription to use a portable oxygen concentrator. Usually, it is difficult to buy a concentrator device without a medical provider's prescription, so be sure to only purchase from reputable sites.

    You can start checking out the best portable oxygen concentrator brands we gathered for you that are guaranteed FAA Approved:

    1. Inogen

    Inogen has been one of the best brands for lightweight, compact, and portable oxygen concentrators in the market for the past 15 years. Their devices are equipped with an Intelligent Delivery Technology that received a clinical study validation for supplying patients that require certain oxygen levels throughout the day and night.

    The brand's primary goal is to give freedom and independence to those people who are undergoing oxygen therapy. Oxygen therapy can be costly and inconvenient, as you will be tasked to schedule tank deliveries every week and monitor your insurance and other bills that come along with it.

    With Inogen, it's all on your terms. You can enjoy life again without worrying too much about how much oxygen you will need for the week.

    Their concentrators have a lifetime warranty and have complementary clinical services from respiratory therapists and licensed nurses. They have wearable devices and stationary machines, and one of their best products is the Inogen One G3. They have different units that you can choose from depending on what you need and want. 


    2. Philips

    Philips is a well-known brand for its significant contributions to health care, including image-guided therapy, medical records, patient monitoring, consumer health, and diagnostic imaging. Its vision is to provide high-quality products and services to its consumers and create with only the highest industry standard without compromising the environment and social responsibility.

    This brand's oxygen concentrators are also considered the best today, including some of the Respironics SimplyGo and Everflo oxygen concentrator models. Their excellent innovative solutions are achieved through collaboration with medical professionals in non-invasive ventilation, oxygen saturation meters, respiratory drug delivery, sleep apnea management, airway clearance devices, and oxygen therapy. 

    Their units are lightweight, easy to transport, and have an external battery that you can remove, recharge, and replace as necessary. Their devices are also FAA approved so that you can bring them anywhere else in the world without problems coming your way. 

    3. CAIRE

    Caire is an essential member of Chart Industries, the largest manufacturer of portable oxygen concentrator machines and other systems related to oxygen therapy worldwide. They are trusted in the medical field to aid consumers with the necessary oxygen supply equipment.

    They have been serving in the industry for more than 50 years, and they are on top of their game for a reason. Facilities such as space exploration labs, high altitude clinics on Mt. Everest, and U.S Military used CAIRE's high-quality machines. They also boast a proprietary breath detection technology geared to help COPD patients worldwide.

    One of their best oxygen concentrator models is the SeQual Eclipse, which is considered one of the best. You will most likely find their products in hospitals, industrial settings, military, and home care units. No oxygen tanks are required to utilize these machines, and they come with instructional videos and quality manuals on how you are to operate one upon purchase. 

    Read more: The 5 Best Portable Oxygen Concentrators [Updated Guide]

    FAQs About Portable Oxygen Concentrators

    How long does a portable oxygen concentrator last?

    Depending on the battery life, you can expect to use an oxygen concentrator continuously for about four to five hours. In terms of their lifespan, they can last for 4 to 7 years, given that they are maintained and kept in good condition. The maintenance usually only requires filter cleaning and repair of damaged parts. 

    What is the difference between liter flow and settings?

    The difference between a liter flow and a setting is that liter flow refers to the amount of oxygen you receive from the oxygen concentrator, and it is measured in liters per minute (LPM).

    The setting refers to the LPM prescribed by your doctor to set the device with. You can ask a medical provider to help you if you're unsure how it works. 

    What is the difference between a concentrator and portable oxygen?

    A concentrator and portable oxygen is the same thing. They provide the necessary amount of oxygen for people with breathing issues.

    Both concentrators and portable oxygen do not require refilling and utilize the air around them to gather purified oxygen and supply that to the patient. They are transportable and easier to use. 

    Do I need a doctor's prescription to use a portable oxygen concentrator?

    Yes. All medical practitioners and authorized establishments are advised by the Food and Drug Administration, or FDA, to require a prescription from a licensed physician before selling medical-grade oxygen concentrators to consumers. Supplemental oxygen is considered a substance, and it can be harmful to people if used without proper medical guidance. 

    Does a portable oxygen concentrator make its own oxygen?

    No. Oxygen concentrators do not make their oxygen. They gather the surrounding air and compress it through a filter of the device while separating all harmful gases from the oxygen. The purified oxygen is then transported through a nasal cannula or stored when not in use in pulse flow concentrators. 

    Why do people use portable oxygen concentrators?

    People with breathing problems use oxygen concentrators to balance the oxygen level in their blood that they cannot get without medical help. A doctor prescribes these devices if you have a health condition that compromises your oxygen levels in the body, including conditions like asthma, lung cancer, flu, and more. 

    Where Can You Buy Portable Oxygen Concentrators?

    Now that you know what is a portable oxygen concentrator, it's for you to decide if this device will be beneficial in your current situation. It has been a proven machine to aid people with breathing problems and other long-term conditions that you can only manage with oxygen therapy.

    Consult your doctor first to see if you are fit to use one of these devices. If you already have a prescription, check our collection of portable oxygen concentrators for sale and see if anything catches your eye.

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