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An ‘oxygen concentrator’ is a device that draws in outside air and purifies it for people with medical conditions that require oxygen therapy. These conditions include respiratory diseases that prevent the lungs from absorbing enough oxygen, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma, as well as other conditions that affect breathing like sleep apnea and cystic fibrosis. Oxygen concentrators require a doctor’s prescription, and cannot be purchased over the counter.
Oxygen concentrators are an indispensable sleep aid for many people with breathing conditions because they deliver purified air throughout the night. This guide will look at portable oxygen concentrator designs and functions, as well as the top-rated concentrator models according to owners.
Our Editor’s Pick is the SimplyGo portable concentrator from Philips Respironics. This portable model has a lightweight battery and an easy-to-move frame, making it perfect for people on the go.
Users can choose from three modes. The continuous flow mode supplies a steady stream of oxygen based on the user’s desired level of liters per minute. In pulse mode, the concentrator delivers airflow based on the user’s breathing patterns. This preserves the battery life. Lastly, sleep mode – like pulse mode – provides oxygen based on the user’s breathing patterns, but at a softer pulse for more comfortable exhalations.
The SimplyGo comes with a carrying case and a mobile cart. This product is backed by a two-year warranty.
Many portable oxygen concentrators are battery drainers, but the Inogen One G3 is a notable exception. This model offers five pulse settings, along with eight- and 16-cell battery options. Depending on the pulse setting, the G3 will operate for 1.7 to 4.5 hours with the eight-cell battery and up to 9.5 hours with the 16-cell battery.
The Inogen One G3 is also very lightweight, weighing between five and six pounds (depending on the battery). With average sound levels below 39 decibels, the machine is relatively quiet, as well. It has an operating altitude of up to 10,000 feet.
The Inogen One G3 comes with a carrying case. It is backed by a five-year warranty, which is significantly longer than average.
Most portable oxygen concentrators are, by definition, fairly compact. The SimplyGo Mini from Philips Respironics is even small and lightweight compared to other models, weighing five pounds and measuring 10.2W” x 8.3L” with the extended battery (the standard battery version is smaller). This makes the SimplyGo Mini especially suited to travel.
With the standard battery, the machine has a battery life of up to 4.5 hours. The extended battery increases battery life to 9.5 hours, although the selected setting affects overall runtime. A user-friendly LCD touchscreen allows owners to easily adjust settings to their liking.
The SimplyGo Mini comes with a carrying case at no extra charge. Philips Respironics backs this portable oxygen concentrator with a three-year warranty.
Stationary oxygen concentrators have been used since the 1970s, and portable concentrators have become increasingly popular in recent years. Most models deliver air using two methods: continuous flow, which delivers air at a constant rate regardless of the user’s breathing patterns; and pulse flow, which only delivers oxygen when the user is inhaling.
Portable concentrator models typically deliver one to three liters of oxygen per minute (LPM) under the continuous flow setting and one to six LPM under the pulse flow setting; they feature adjustable settings to accommodate users with different preferences. However, some models only feature pulse flow settings.
Most models connect to electrical outlets for residential use, and also contain a rechargeable battery that allows them to be used away from home. Although price-points vary by brand and model, most portable concentrators sold today cost between $2,000 and $4,000.
Read on to learn more about construction, pricing, performance, and other key factors for portable oxygen concentrator shoppers.
Prior to the 1980s, patients requiring oxygen therapy primarily relied on pressurized oxygen tanks. While these tanks are highly effective, they are also fairly inefficient. Suppliers must visit patients on a regular basis to replenish the oxygen supplies in their tank(s).
Patients paid suppliers for each home visit until the mid-1980s, when Medicare instituted a flat monthly rate for these services. Following these changes, the durable medical equipment (DME) industry began promoting oxygen concentrators in order to manage costs.
Oxygen concentrator units were initially tall, heavy and stationary. Portable oxygen concentrators were introduced in the early 2000s to aid patients when they were away from their homes.
As the table below explains, portable concentrators have certain advantages over pressurized oxygen tank systems. However, there is one notable disadvantage of portable concentrators: their operating time is not as long as oxygen tanks when the device cannot be plugged into an outlet and must run off of battery power.
|Delivery System||Pressurized Oxygen Cylinders||Portable Oxygen Concentrators|
|Typical Height||Up to 52"||Up to 20"|
|Typical Weight||Up to 114 lbs.||Up to 20 lbs.|
|Power Source||None. Tanks deliver stored oxygen by releasing valves, and do not require electrical or battery power||Electrical outlet and 1 to 2 batteries|
|Average Operating Time (Continuous Flow)||2 to 11 hours (lowest LPM setting) 20 minutes to 2 hours (highest LPM setting)||2.5 to 6 hours (lowest LPM setting) 45 minutes to 1.5 hours (highest LPM setting)|
|Average Operating Time (Pulse Flow)||5 to 30+ hours (lowest LPM setting) 1 to 6 hours (highest LPM setting)||4 to 10+ hours (lowest LPM setting) 1.5 to 4 hours (highest LPM setting)|
|Oxygen Storage||Finite. Suppliers must replenish oxygen supply on a regular basis||Infinite. Concentrators draw in air, and never need to be replenished as long as they are plugged in/battery-powered and working properly|
Please note: like pressurized oxygen tanks, oxygen concentrators carry a high risk of combustion. People should never smoke while using concentrators, and the device should be stored in a cool, dry place away from heat sources and flammable chemicals.
Concentrators utilize a process known as ‘pressure swing adsorption.’ All gases are adsorbed, or attracted to solid surfaces under certain pressurized settings, but the rate of attraction to various surfaces under certain pressurized settings is different for each gas.
Specifically, concentrators contain zeolite minerals that attract nitrogen at a higher rate than oxygen. When the concentrator takes in air, these zeolite minerals essentially trap and contain nitrogen, which can be harmful to humans when inhaled, while a component known as a ‘molecular sieve’ allows purified, oxygen-rich air to pass through the concentrator and into the user’s breathing apparatus. Concentrators are designed to delivery oxygen at certain purity levels, usually between 87% to 96%.
Concentrators work using the following four-step process:
Users can adjust the airflow rate using the device’s built-in interface. Most portable concentrators can deliver oxygen at a rate of up to two or three liters per minute (LPM) under the continuous flow setting. Additionally, they may select the ‘pulse flow’ setting that only delivers oxygen when the patient is inhaling.
Because the pulse flow is much more conservative than the continuous flow, the airflow rate typically ranges from one to six LPM, and some models have up to nine pulse flow settings. Higher LPM rates will drain the battery quicker, but this is a non-issue when the concentrator is plugged into an outlet. Also, please note that some concentrator models forgo the continuous flow completely and only feature pulse flow settings.
In terms of size, portable concentrators typically measure between 6 and 20 inches high, 6 and 9 inches wide, and 2.5 and 4.5 inches wide. The average portable concentrator weighs between 2 and 6 pounds, though some may weigh 20 pounds or more.
Most models list temperature and humidity level ranges at which the device can be operated and stored. Additionally, concentrators will not work properly at certain altitudes. The maximum elevation is usually 10,000 feet or higher. This figure is important for determining whether or not a concentrator is suitable for air travel, but customers should also ensure the product has been approved for use on planes by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
Medical conditions that may require oxygen therapy from a concentrator include:
Regardless of the patient’s condition(s), physicians will evaluate him/or her to determine if oxygen therapy is the most suitable treatment method. They may draw a blood sample to measure the oxygen levels in the patient’s blood or use a pulse oximeter, which measures oxygen levels without requiring a blood sample.
Additionally, physicians look for the following symptoms of low blood-oxygen levels:
Low blood-oxygen levels often necessitate oxygen therapy. The average adult has a blood oxygen concentration that sits between 75 and 100 millimeters of mercury (mmHg). People with a blood oxygen concentration of 60 mmHg or less are often prescribed oxygen therapy. Some patients require constant oxygen therapy during the day and night, while others receive therapy on a semi-frequent or as-needed basis, such as after workouts.
Like concentrators, CPAP machines deliver a continuous flow of oxygen to individuals at a fixed, prescribed rate. The air is purified in the central unit, and then delivered to a face mask or nasal tubes using a connective tube.
BiPAP machines utilize a similar mechanism, but rather than delivering continuous air at a fixed rate, these devices deliver oxygen at two rates, one for inhalation and a different setting for exhalation. This eases the breathing process. rate depending on the user’s breathing patterns.
APAP machines deliver air at variable rates, depending on the user’s breathing patterns. This is considered the most comfortable option. Some advanced CPAP and BiPAP machines provide APAP settings, as well.
The key difference between concentrators and CPAP/BiPAP/APAP machines is the type of air that is delivered to users. Concentrators deliver purified, concentrated oxygen that is beneficial for people with the conditions listed in the previous section. CPAP, BiPAP, and APAP machines, on the other hand, provide a stream of air that expands the throat muscles and keeps the airway clear.
For this reason, these machines are almost always prescribed for individuals with sleep apnea. They are not normally used to treat other diseases or conditions. However, individuals with certain medical conditions — such as obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and COPD — may use a concentrator and a CPAP, BiPAP, or APAP machine simultaneously.
When shopping for a portable oxygen concentrator and comparing different brands and models, here are few considerations to keep in mind: