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Which Portable Oxygen Concentrator Is Right For You?

Dec 22, 2017

We've covered the differences in functionality and portability between continuous flow and pulse dose portable concentrator, so now it's time to decide which, if any, portable oxygen concentrator is right for you. Begin by making a note of your oxygen needs for your daily activities and include your needs for sleep and rest as well. It's possible that a portable oxygen concentrator is not a single solution for your oxygen needs, you might be able to use a portable unit while you are away from home, but might need a more robust oxygen solution for use at home. For example, many portable oxygen concentrators are not approved, or recommended by doctors, for use during sleep. Talk to your doctor about the right solution or solutions for your needs. 

Once you know your daily oxygen requirements, you should have a pretty good idea of whether a continuous flow or pulse dose portable oxygen concentrator is the right choice for you. Now it's time to decide on a model based on what will give you the best range of oxygen delivery for your lifestyle. 

Consider the amount of oxygen delivered per minute first. Continuous flow oxygen is unique in that it delivers the same amount of oxygen regardless of your breath rate. So if you require 3 liters per minute of oxygen, that amount of oxygen is delivered to you throughout one minute whether you take 20 breaths each minute or 10. Continuous flow oxygen concentrators deliver a set amount of oxygen per minute when set to the corresponding setting. Pulse dose oxygen concentrators, on the other hand, have unique setting levels that deliver different amounts of oxygen per minute and and each manufacturer's setting delivers a different amount. So, it's very important to have a good idea of what your oxygen requirements are so that you can look at each model available to see what will work best for you. 

Also, consider buying a unit that can grow with your oxygen needs in the future. If your lung condition will require more supplemental oxygen over time, you might consider a concentrator that can deliver more oxygen than your current needs require. This might mean giving up a little bit in terms of the size and weight for a more robust pulse dose unit, or consider a continuous flow concentrator. 

There's a portable oxygen concentrator on the market for many lung conditions and oxygen requirements, and knowing your oxygen needs will help you determine the best choice for you. Keep in mind that many units aren't recommended for use during sleep, so you may require two oxygen systems: One for use at home, and one for use away. Finally, consider your future oxygen needs when making a decision. You'll want a concentrator that can grow with you as you require more oxygen or a even continuous flow setting. Regardless of the portable oxygen concentrator that you and your doctor decide is best for you, we're sure you'll love the increased mobility and freedom that a portable oxygen concentrator allows. 

How Do You Make an Educated Decision?

First, while portable concentrators might be advertised as the only oxygen equipment you will ever need, this is not yet true. Concentrators are still a relatively new product and, as with any type of technology, are subject to occasional operational issues rendering the device unusable. It is recommended to always have a backup oxygen delivery system available, such as a stationary concentrator or liquid portable. Also, many clinicians and respiratory therapists are not yet comfortable with approving units for use during sleep. Because your breathing patterns typically become shallower during sleep, there is concern that operating on intermittent flow settings will not properly trigger oxygen delivery. While several manufacturers maintain their products are safe for nocturnal use and promote the ability to change the device sensitivity, many do not recommend using during sleep without approval from your doctor first. 

Second, know your oxygen requirements. Write down your oxygen needs for rest, activity (like walking, completing daily errands, etc.) and sleep, and share these with your doctor, respiratory therapist, and/or oxygen specialist, who can (hopefully) direct you to a product that can meet these needs. In an ideal situation, your concetrator of choice should be able to provide sufficient oxygen quantities while you are at rest, active, sleeping and/or at higher altitudes. Make certain that the concentrator you purchase can adequately provide you with enough oxygen to keep your blood oxygen saturation levels in an acceptable range. In order to do this, and in consultation with your medical professional, you should ask for a demo or test drive”. If “road testing” proves difficult through one provider, find a provider who will let you try out the equipment. 

Third, you must understand that not all machines are created equal. Intermittent flow units are more portable than continuous flow units, but they also have a smaller range of patient oxygen requirements that they are able to meet. Additionally, Intermittent flow (and continuous flow set to operate in their “pulse flow” modes) deliver their oxygen in different quantities.When you use a stationary concentrator; you know for a fact that a 2 LPM setting is 2 LPM of oxygen flow. Far more often than not, a portable machine set to “2” pulse flow does not mean 2 LPM or equivalent continuous flow oxygen. 

For example: When you are on continuous flow oxygen, the volume of oxygen you inhale is dependent on your breath rate. At 2 LPM continuous flow and breathing at 10 BPM, you may get about 67 mL of oxygen per breath, at 20 BPM you will get about 33 mL per breath and at 30 BPM you will get about 16 mL per breath. 

However, when set to a pulse flow setting of “2”, the AirSep FreeStyle delivers 18 mL of oxygen per breath, the Inova Labs LifeChoice delivers 25 mL per breath, and the DeVilbiss iGo delivers 33 mL per breath – three different machines, three different volumes delivered at the same numerical setting. On top of that, while the iGo may deliver the same volume per breath as 2 LPM continuous flow at 20 BPM, this only occurs at 20 BPM, and we all know we do not breathe at the same rate all of the time. 

So you can see why it is very important that you know what kind of oxygen volumes a portable concentrator is capable of producing. All manufacturers provide delivery specifications in their product literature, but these are not always comprehensive. If the concentrator delivers volumes lower than what you need to maintain oxygen saturations during continuous flow, then that unit likely will not be able to meet your oxygen needs. One other factor to consider is not just how you can use today, but how you will be use in the future. If your lung conditions will deteriorate over time, requiring more supplemental oxygen, you will want to purchase a portable oxygen concentrator that can meet these future requirements as well – do not limit yourself to unit that will only be useful as long as your lung condition does not change.