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How Does An Oxygen Concentrator Work: Ultimate Guide

How Does An Oxygen Concentrator Work: Ultimate Guide

Apria Editorial |

An oxygen concentrator may be used to help the body absorb more oxygen. To ensure safe and effective usage, oxygen concentrators are only available through prescription.

Once you've received your prescription, it's good practice to find out as much information as you can to develop a functional knowledge of oxygen therapy. Find everything you need to know about the oxygen concentrator in this in-depth guide from ApriaHome.

For our bodies to function, oxygen must be transported from our lungs to our tissues and organs. The quantity of oxygen in our blood can sometimes drop below safe levels due to conditions like asthma, lung cancer, COPD, the flu, and COVID-19. The most effective treatment is oxygen therapy.

Oxygen therapy refers to the practice of supplementing our regular oxygen intake when levels are dangerously low. An oxygen concentrator may be used to help the body absorb more oxygen. To ensure safe and effective usage, oxygen concentrators are only available through prescription.

The only appropriate usage of a home oxygen concentrator is following a doctor's recommendation. It's best to see a doctor before administering oxygen to oneself. Doing so without the correct guidance can lead to serious health complications if too much or too little oxygen is administered.

Once you've received your prescription, finding as much information as possible is good practice for developing a functional knowledge of oxygen therapy. Find everything you need to know about the oxygen concentrator in this in-depth guide from ApriaHome. Keep reading to discover everything you need to know about an oxygen concentrator, what it is, how to use it, how it works, advantages and disadvantages!

Oxygen Concentrator Working Principle: How Does An Oxygen Concentrator Work?

How does an oxygen concentrator work? Concentrators work by removing impurities from the air and concentrating the oxygen molecules, delivering oxygen of up to 95% purity to the user. An oxygen concentrator's compressor draws in outside air and regulates the supply's pressure.

Oxygen concentrators work by filtering and concentrating oxygen molecules from the ambient air. The operation is based on pressure swing adsorption (PSA) technology and is extensively utilized to provide oxygen in healthcare settings where the use of liquid or pressurized oxygen would be too risky or cumbersome, such as in residences or mobile clinics. In addition, concentrators using nitrogen separation membrane technology are also available for use in a wide range of in-patient settings like laboratories, hospitals, or emergency rooms.

Medical oxygen is produced by the process of air intake and nitrogen extraction. This delivers saturated liquid or gas oxygen to patients with low blood oxygen levels.

What Are The Components Of An Oxygen Concentrator?

When a patient has trouble breathing, an oxygen concentrator can be life-enhancing.

The equipment supplied typically includes:

  • A nasal cannula
  • Oxygen mask
  • Pressure valve
  • Humidifier
  • Sieve filters and filter beds
  • Compressor
  • Some models feature an oxygen tank or cylinder

    How To Set Up And Use An Oxygen Concentrator

    Step 1:

    While in operation, the oxygen concentrator will become quite hot and needs room for air circulation; therefore, it should be placed far from any nearby furnishings. Ensure you set the concentrator a foot or two away from any nearby walls or pieces of furniture for at-home oxygen therapy.

    Step 2:

    If the oxygen flow rate is more than 2-to-3 liters per minute, a humidifier may be recommended (LPM). If you've been prescribed a humidifier as part of your treatment, fit the humidification bottle into the oxygen concentrator's outlet. Turn your bottle's cap clockwise until it clicks into place on the machine, and fill it with distilled or filtered water.

    Step 3:

    After that, you may use an adapter or a humidification bottle to connect the oxygen tubing. Humidification bottles often have a small opening through which water can be poured. Place the oxygen tube here. In the absence of a humidifier, oxygen adaptors will be used to secure tubing.

    Step 4:

    An air input sieve filter is included in the oxygen concentrator to keep the air free of dust and allergens. Find it on the side of your device. If the filter has to be removed or replaced for cleaning, you should do so before using the machine. For best results, remove and clean your filter once a week by removing and rinsing. Ensure it is left to dry thoroughly before use.

    Step 5:

    An air inlet filter will be included as part of the oxygen concentrator's system to keep the air free of dust and allergens. Find it on the side of your device. You should remove and clean your filter once a week by rinsing it in hot water. Ensure it is left to dry thoroughly before use.

    Step 6:

    The oxygen concentrator's air-cycling process needs some time to reach the desired concentration. For optimal results, the oxygen concentrator should be turned on 15 to 20 minutes before use.

    Step 7:

    Given its high power consumption, the oxygen concentrator should be the sole appliance wired to any single outlet. Turn the device on; you can expect to hear the sounds of ventilation as the equipment powers up. It is always a good idea to double-check the device's status lights to ensure everything is running well.

    Step 8:

    Locate the liter control valve or switch before using the oxygen concentrator. It may be numbered either in LPM or in increments of 1, 2, 3, etc. This knob should be adjusted to provide the specified volume of oxygen per minute. Your doctor will guide you on what levels your liter control switch should be set on.

    Tips & Best Practices For At-Home Oxygen Therapy:

    • Ensure any pressure changes are assessed by an expert and avoid changing too many of the settings on your own.
    • To ensure that your oxygen intake is unobstructed, double-check that the tubing has not been kinked or bent in any way. If the tubing is ever damaged, you risk receiving an insufficient oxygen supply.
    • Make sure there are no spaces around the mask's edges and that it fits firmly but comfortably around the face.
    • For optimal oxygen intake using a nasal cannula, position it so that it enters your nostrils upward.

    Advantages And Disadvantages Of Oxygen Concentrators

    Oxygen concentrators function like central air conditioners. It draws air in, purifies, and delivers it in the form of medical-grade oxygen. To help those with low oxygen levels in their blood, medical oxygen treatment devices are available in various models and brands. There are some that store oxygen in gas or liquid form in tanks. However, many prefer to utilize an oxygen concentrator, which draws oxygen from the ambient air, as it offers a high degree of dependability across different brands and models.

    Below are some of the advantages and disadvantages of using an oxygen concentrator.

    Advantages Of Oxygen Concentrators

    Improved Quality Of Life:

    Patients with respiratory disorders have a better chance of survival when using oxygen concentrators as part of their treatment. Higher oxygen levels help restore a patient's energy levels, alertness, and general well-being.

    No Refills:

    Oxygen cylinders have a limited air supply, so when they run out, they need replacement, whereas oxygen concentrators work without needing a refill. Using electricity, the oxygen concentrator machine can produce an infinite supply of oxygen.


    Oxygen concentrators are designed for portability and ease of use, and are far easier to transport than oxygen cylinders. Some concentrators can be operated "on the go" and weigh up to 4.5 kg. Certain models are battery-operated and have a maximum usage time of 12 hours between charges.

    Low Maintenance:

    Oxygen concentrators only require a once-off installation. Other than light cleaning and routine checks, they do not require a lot of maintenance.

    Improved Safety:

    Compared to other oxygen delivery methods, oxygen concentrator machines have an added safety benefit. Oxygen cylinders also have much higher rates of leakage and oxygen waste.

    Disadvantages Of Oxygen Concentrators

    Power Supply:

    Oxygen concentrator usage might be challenging without reliable and consistent access to power. Since oxygen concentrators need electricity to function, this might be a major drawback when traveling for long periods. Battery packs provide up to 12 hours of power but will also need recharging. Ongoing operation can lead to higher energy usage and running costs.

    Regular Filter Replacement:

    Accessories like filters need regular replacement to maintain the patient's health and well-being. In areas of high humidity or air pollutants, the replacement of filters is often required up to 3 times weekly. This, coupled with high running costs, can add up over time.

    Initial Investment:

    An oxygen concentrator is a piece of high-grade medical equipment that needs some training to operate. The initial cost is often relatively high, and as an advanced piece of machinery, the moving accessories and components are subject to malfunction. Maintenance costs and replacement parts can be expensive and hard to find.

    Associated Risks:

    Hyperoxia, which may be caused by inhaling oxygen at increased levels for extended periods, can lead to oxygen toxicity or even oxygen poisoning, so it's crucial to check in with your doctor before utilizing any oxygen concentrator.

    The inhalation of molecular oxygen may cause a condition known as oxygen poisoning:

    • Central nervous system toxicity: Short-term exposure to oxygen pressures above atmospheric pressure causes central nervous system harm.
    • Pulmonary and ocular toxicity: Toxicity to the lungs and eyes from prolonged exposure to high oxygen concentrations at atmospheric pressure.

      However, hypoxia, which occurs when blood oxygen levels drop too low, can harm vital organs like the heart and brain.

      Though oxygen accounts for around 21% of the air we breathe, it is possible to cause permanent lung damage by inhaling it in large quantities.

      Some patients report the following symptoms:

      • Involuntary muscle contractions
      • Headaches
      • Nausea
      • Anxiety
      • Blurred vision & dizziness

        Depending on the patient's oxygen requirement, oxygen concentrators provide both advantages and disadvantages. Assuming you have a backup system in place and professional medical advice, home oxygen concentrators can significantly enhance the quality of life in patients with chronic lung disorders or conditions that require supplemental oxygen.

        Frequently Asked Questions Related To The Use Of Oxygen Concentrators

        What does a yellow light mean on an oxygen concentrator?

        A yellow light indicates a lower-than-average oxygen level. You should continue utilizing the concentrator, but you should also have a backup oxygen supply ready.

        Some troubleshooting tips:

        • Check if filters need cleaning or replacement
        • Check kinks or twists in the tubing
        • Check for tube damage; or leaks in the equipment

          How long do oxygen concentrators last?

          The typical lifespan of a portable oxygen concentrator is 4-7 years. How well a patient maintains their portable unit is also a significant factor in how long it will last. Equipment has to be cleaned and serviced regularly to function properly. In the long run, this will make the machine last longer.

          How to reduce noise from an oxygen concentrator?

          The machine's interior, over time, will eventually cause the rubber to tear, split, or sag. This might result in the internal compressor rubbing or vibrating against the chassis, causing the concentrator to shake and make a buzzing noise.

          To reduce noise:

          • Take the machine in for professional service and repair
          • Place on a flat surface to minimize vibration
          • Place on a soft surface like a carpet or rug to soften vibration
          • Replace internal springs, which can over time loosen and vibrate more
          • Check for any loose screws or panels that may need tightening

            How many watts does an oxygen concentrator use?

            Oxygen concentrators usually need 120 volts and four running MPs to function. In addition, the oxygen machine has a motor that is constantly turning, requiring an average of 480 watts of operating power.

            Do I need a prescription for an oxygen concentrator?

            Although oxygen treatment has the potential to save lives, exposure to above-normal or extremely high partial pressures of oxygen may induce cell damage, alveolar collapse in the lungs, retinal detachments, and convulsions.

            For this reason, establishing the dosage, flow rate, and length of the treatment with your doctor is crucial.

            Restore Your Health, Well-Being & Oxygen Saturation Levels WIth ApriaHome

            Chronic lung disorders and chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases affect millions of people worldwide, and our wide variety of respiratory treatments may help individuals suffering from these conditions breathe easier.

            ApriaHome sources and supplies premium quality home respiratory services and durable home medical equipment. Our goal is to help you make the most of every day by providing resources and treatment solutions for a wide range of chronic conditions. Oxygen concentrators have the potential to enhance a patient's quality of life and improve survival rates for chronic lung conditions like coronavirus or COPD.

            Once you've received a prescription, you may feel overwhelmed by the extensive range of oxygen concentrators on the market. We've narrowed the choices for best oxygen concentrators down based on affordability, quality, and ease of use:

              Let us help you restore the quality of life for you or your loved ones needing prolonged oxygen therapy. Looking for advice? Our helpful agents are on call at (800) 780-1508 between 8:00 am - 10:00 pm EST daily. Get in touch today.


              LEGAL DISCLAIMER: Material in this newsletter is only: (1) provided for general health education and informational purposes, and to provide references to other resources; it may not apply to you as an individual. While Apria believes that the information provided through this communication is accurate and reliable, Apria cannot and does not make any such guarantee. It is not intended to be a replacement for professional medical advice, evaluation, diagnosis, services or treatment (collectively, "medical treatment"). Please see your healthcare provider for medical treatment related to you and your specific health condition(s). Never disregard medical advice or delay seeking medical care because of something you have read on or accessed through this website. Reading this newsletter should not be construed to mean that you have a healthcare provider/patient relationship with Apria.