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Health Advice: Portable Oxygen Concentrators: The Basics



Many medical conditions are treated with oxygen, and this oxygen is delivered by a device known as an oxygen concentrator. This is a device that raises the oxygen levels that it delivers to its users, beyond the concentration normally found in the air. Oxygen concentrators are bulky and can make it difficult for their users to go far from home. Instead, patients depending on concentrated oxygen use portable oxygen concentrators while on the go.

Principles of Operation

Air is made mostly of nitrogen and oxygen, with traces of some other gases. Portable concentrators first suck in the surrounding air and then compress it. Special filters then remove the nitrogen from the air, leaving the compressed air more highly concentrated with oxygen. Most of this enriched air is then re-expanded and delivered to the user, although some are directed at the filters to blast off accumulation and keep them clean.

Types of Concentrator

There are two basic types of concentrators: continuous flow and on-demand. Continuous flow concentrators produce oxygen at a steady rate. This, however, is rather wasteful, as users only need it when they are inhaling, not exhaling. The on-demand concentrator delivers the oxygen in bursts, which are timed to coincide with user breathing patterns.

Not only is this less wasteful, it means that on-demand units can be made smaller than their continuous counterparts. For this reason, many portable concentrators are of the on-demand type. However, not all on-demand systems are appropriate for use when sleeping.

Because breathing during sleep is much slower, many machines have a difficult time telling when to deliver the burst. For this reason, many people who need oxygen while asleep use the continuous flow design. For greater flexibility of use, many portable concentrators have two settings: one for continuous flow and the other for burst delivery.

Flying With a Concentrator

Portable oxygen concentrators have been approved by the FAA for use on airlines. When traveling with one, users are advised to use direct flights wherever possible, to save on battery life. Contact your airline a few weeks beforehand, to let them know that you will be bringing the device along with you and using it on the plane, and to ask for the current rules and regulations.

FAA regulations state that all batteries must have enough life to last for the entire flight, plus half the length of the flight again, in case of emergency delays. When traveling, users of portable concentrators should always carry a backup battery, just in case.

Shopping for Portable Concentrators

Many online stores allow you to shop for portable concentrators without having to find a nearby brick and mortar store that carries them. Many portable units are designed with traveling in mind. If you intend to do a lot of flying, look for a design that was built to fit easily under an airline seat. Even if you do not intend to do a lot of flying, make sure your device is easily carried in your car or by whatever means of conveyance you usually travel.