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Portable Oxygen Concentrators: Everything You Need to Know

Portable Oxygen Concentrators: Everything You Need to Know

Apria Editorial |

If you have a respiratory illness that requires oxygen therapy, you may have heard of portable oxygen concentrators (POCs). These devices are designed to provide you with a constant supply of oxygen while allowing you to move around and enjoy your daily activities. But what exactly are POCs, how do they work, and what are the benefits and drawbacks of using them? In this article, we will answer all these questions and more, so you can make an informed decision about whether a POC is right for you.

What is a portable oxygen concentrator?

Oxygen therapy is a treatment that delivers oxygen to your lungs when you have low blood oxygen levels due to a respiratory condition, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, pulmonary fibrosis, or cystic fibrosis. Oxygen therapy can help you breathe easier, prevent complications, and improve your quality of life. However, traditional oxygen therapy devices, such as oxygen tanks or cylinders, can be bulky, heavy, and inconvenient to use. They also require frequent refills or replacements, which can be costly and time-consuming.

That's where POCs come in. The best portable oxygen concentrator is a small, lightweight device that extracts oxygen from the air and delivers it to you through a nasal cannula or a mask.

Unlike oxygen tanks, portable oxygen concentrators do not store oxygen; they produce it on demand. This means you don't have to worry about running out of oxygen or carrying around heavy cylinders. You can also use a portable oxygen concentrator anywhere there is an electrical outlet or a battery pack, giving you more freedom and flexibility.

How do portable oxygen concentrators work?

POCs work by using a process called pressure swing adsorption (PSA). PSA involves passing air through a filter that contains a material called zeolite, which has tiny pores that trap nitrogen and other gases. This leaves behind pure oxygen, which is then delivered through a tube. The filter alternates between two chambers: one that absorbs nitrogen and one that releases it. This way, the device can continuously produce oxygen without interruption.

There are two types of oxygen portable concentrators: continuous flow and pulse dose. Continuous flow portable oxygen concentrators deliver a constant stream of oxygen at a set rate, measured in liters per minute (LPM).

Pulse dose devices deliver oxygen only when you inhale, measured in milliliters per breath. Pulse dose devices are more energy-efficient and can last longer on battery power than continuous flow devices. However, continuous-flow devices may be more suitable for people who need higher oxygen levels or who use their devices during sleep.

Read more about how POCs work.

What are the benefits of portable oxygen concentrators?

Portable oxygen concentrators offer several advantages over other forms of oxygen therapy, such as:

Portability: Portable oxygen concentrators are much smaller and lighter than oxygen tanks or cylinders. They typically weigh between 2 and 10 pounds and can fit in a backpack or a wheeled cart. This makes them easier to carry around and travel with.

Convenience: Portable oxygen concentrators do not require refills or replacements. You only need to plug them into an electrical outlet or use a battery pack to power them. You can also use them in most modes of transportation, such as cars, planes, trains, or buses.

Cost-effectiveness: Portable oxygen concentrators may be more cost-effective than oxygen tanks or cylinders in the long run because they do not incur ongoing expenses for refills or deliveries. However, the initial cost of buying or renting a portable oxygen concentrator may be higher than other options.

Shop portable oxygen concentrators

What are the drawbacks of portable oxygen concentrators?

Portable oxygen concentrators also have some limitations and challenges that you should be aware of, such as:

Noise: Portable oxygen concentrators produce some noise when they operate, which may bother some people or interfere with their sleep. The noise level varies depending on the model and the setting of the device. Some models have quieter modes or features that reduce the noise.

Maintenance: Portable oxygen concentrators require regular maintenance to keep them working properly. You need to clean the filters, replace the batteries, and check the tubing and cannula for wear and tear. You also need to follow the manufacturer's instructions for storing and transporting the device.

Availability: Portable oxygen concentrators may not be available in all areas or covered by all insurance plans. You may need to obtain a prescription from your doctor and get approval from your insurance company before you can buy or rent a portable oxygen concentrator. You may also need to pay some out-of-pocket costs depending on your coverage.

How to choose a portable oxygen concentrator?

If you are interested in getting a portable oxygen concentrator, you should consult with your doctor and your oxygen supplier to find the best option for you. You should consider the following factors when choosing a portable oxygen concentrator:

Your oxygen needs: You should know how much oxygen you need and how often you need it. Your doctor can help you determine your oxygen prescription, which specifies the flow rate and the delivery mode of your oxygen therapy. You should choose a portable oxygen concentrator that can meet or exceed your prescription.

Your lifestyle: You should consider how you plan to use your portable oxygen concentrator and what activities you want to do with it. You should choose a POC that is compatible with your lifestyle and preferences. For example, if you travel a lot, you may want a portable oxygen concentrator for travel that is compact, lightweight, and battery-operated. If you use your device at night, you may want a device that is quiet and has a continuous flow mode.

Your budget: You should compare the costs and benefits of different portable oxygen concentrators and see what your insurance covers. You should choose a portable oxygen concentrator that is affordable and reliable. You may also want to look for warranties, guarantees, or service plans that can protect your investment.

Portable oxygen concentrators are devices that provide oxygen therapy to people with respiratory illnesses. They are portable, convenient, safe, and cost-effective alternatives to traditional oxygen therapy devices. However, they also have some drawbacks, such as noise, maintenance, and availability. If you are considering getting a portable oxygen concentrator, you should consult with your doctor and your oxygen supplier to find the best option for you.


Q: How long do portable oxygen concentrators last?
Portable oxygen concentrators can last for several years if they are well-maintained and used properly. However, they may lose some efficiency over time and need to be replaced or repaired. You should check the performance of your device regularly and follow the manufacturer's recommendations for servicing.

Q: How long do portable oxygen concentrator batteries last?
Portable oxygen concentrator batteries can last for different durations depending on the type, size, and usage of the device. Generally, pulse dose devices have longer battery life than continuous flow devices. The battery life also depends on the flow rate and the ambient temperature. You should always have extra batteries or a backup power source in case your battery runs out.

Q: Can I use a portable oxygen concentrator on an airplane?
Yes, you can use a portable oxygen concentrator on an airplane as long as it is approved by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and meets the airline's requirements. You should check with your airline before you travel and inform them that you will be using a portable oxygen concentrator. You should also bring a copy of your prescription and a letter from your doctor stating that you need oxygen therapy.

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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.