Oxygen is necessary for life. Most people can absorb enough oxygen just by breathing normally. Others, however, may suffer from breathing or lung disorders that obstruct their absorption of oxygen. An oxygen concentrator is one of several devices available on the market that provide oxygen therapy to individuals who need help absorbing the proper amounts of oxygen. Other methods of oxygen therapy include the use of oxygen gas, liquid oxygen, and hyperbaric oxygen therapy. This article will focus on oxygen concentrators, how they work, and what they are used for.
An oxygen concentrator is a device that takes in oxygen from a supply of gas, usually ambient air, to create a gas with comparatively higher concentration levels of oxygen. Oxygen concentrators have a variety of applications in healthcare. Pressured or liquid oxygen is typically too dangerous to use at home, as it is extremely flammable and can lead to explosions if it comes into contact with a variety of materials – materials that you might not even think of as flammable. As a result, oxygen concentrators are often a useful way to provide in-home care for those who need oxygen therapy. Several oxygen concentrators are too large to be portable, but many models are small enough to be moved around.
An oxygen concentrator usually works by taking in the air from the room or atmosphere, removing other gases, and delivering concentrated oxygen to the patient for therapeutic use. It typically uses pressure swing adsorption (PSA) technology. PSA separates a particular gar from a mix of gases under pressure by leveraging the gases’ molecular characteristics. Under high pressures, gas is usually attracted or “adsorbed” to solid surfaces. As you raise the pressure, the gas is adsorbed, and as you reduce it, the gas is released. Different gases are adsorbed at different rates depending on their molecular makeup. PSA takes advantage of these different adsorption rates to adsorb and then release a particular gas.
Once an oxygen concentrator separates oxygen from other gases using the method described above, the device releases oxygen through a mask, nasal tube, or continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), which can be used during a person’s sleep. In the case of newborns, the device may release the oxygen into an incubator.
Oxygen concentrators are recommended for people who suffer from breathing disorders that prevent them from getting enough oxygen by simply breathing on their own. Breathing disorders include sleep apnea, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema, asthma, chronic or acute bronchitis, cystic fibrosis, pneumonia, pulmonary edema, lung cancer, acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), neuromuscular disorders that lead to difficulties breathing, pneumoconiosis (a series of conditions caused by injuries to the lungs, such as the inhalation of asbestos or the so-called black lung disease that results from inhaling coal dust), and obesity hyperventilation syndrome, which happens when the pressure of too much weight on the chest makes it difficult for the chest to expand in order for the lungs to take in oxygen.
People without breathing disorders may also benefit from using an oxygen concentrator in certain situations. The farther up from sea level you get, the lower the level of oxygen in the atmosphere. As a result, hiking or skiing in high altitudes can make it difficult to absorb enough oxygen. The higher the altitude, the more difficult it is for you to breathe. Some people may even suffer what is known as Acute Mountain Syndrome (AMS). Symptoms include headaches, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, pain, and vertigo.
There are dangers associated with using an oxygen concentrator, however. Whether you suffer from breathing problems, AMS, or simply could use a little help breathing while you’re hiking or skiing, you should consult your doctor. Misuse of an oxygen concentrator can lead to burns and explosions. It may also dry up your airways and cause infections. Make sure to have your doctor teach you exactly how to use it.
If used correctly, however, an oxygen concentrator can lead to improved quality of life by increasing energy levels and improve the quality of your sleep and overall comfort.
The symptoms of low oxygen absorption include rapid breathing, sweating, changes in the color of your skin, shortness of breath, rapid heart rate, coughing, wheezing, and confusion. If you’re at a high altitude and start feeling dizzy, nauseous, and/or general pain, you’re likely experiencing altitude sickness and may also benefit from oxygen therapy.