How Do Oxygen Concentrators Work? (Expert Guide)

How do oxygen concentrators work and in what situations are they helpful? You see, people with oxygen deficiencies, lung diseases, and certain other conditions require some sort of aid to help them breathe more comfortably. The clinical use of oxygen helps treat chronic health issues, relieve pain, and mitigate the symptoms of various conditions. Pulmonary hypertension and cystic fibrosis are just a few examples of where oxygen therapy may be used.

Patients that undergo oxygen therapy typically will be using either oxygen tanks or devices called oxygen concentrators to assist them with breathing.

Oxygen tanks are tanks that patients carry around with them at all times. The problem with these tanks is that they will eventually run out of oxygen. This can be a problem for long-term treatments and situations where patients need something with greater portability, and while some oxygen concentrators are bulky, some are extremely compact and portable.

What Are Oxygen Concentrators?

Oxygen concentrators are portable devices that produce a consistent and endless supply of oxygen for patients. Due to the convenience, they are generally more expensive, but they can often solve a lot of problems that patients would have with the oxygen tanks.

These devices are roughly the size of a lunchbox, and with the concentrators, there are no tanks that need to be refilled.

Another great thing about the concentrator is that it is a one-time payment. Once you buy the device, you have it for life, and you can use it whenever it becomes necessary.

Doctors may use oxygen concentrators instead of tanks in emergency rooms or during surgical procedures, but the concentrators are more common for long-term treatments. For long-term treatments, patients would need to learn how to use their oxygen device so that they can use them independently.

Not all oxygen concentrators are portable. Home oxygen concentrators may be much larger than portable concentrators, and they will usually sit on a set of wheels so that they can still be moved around. These are slightly less convenient and are more reminiscent of a set of oxygen tanks that are usually carried around on a cart.

Portable oxygen concentrators are great for people who are still fairly mobile and will be moving around a lot and continuing with their daily routine despite their condition. They are also good for people with chronic conditions that need the supplemental oxygen everywhere they go.

How Do (Portable) Oxygen Concentrators Work?

Essentially, oxygen concentrators receive air, purify, and send it to the user for breathing. The reason that these devices don’t require tanks is that they are simply pulling from the surrounding air, so they already have an endless supply of oxygen, regardless of where the individual may be. However, the goal is to deliver a purer form of oxygen to the user, and the process that takes place inside of the device aims to purify the air.

Once the device takes in the air, it compresses it and removes the nitrogen. Air is naturally 80% nitrogen and 20% oxygen, but by the time the concentrator is through with the purification process, it will be delivering air that is 90% oxygen.

There are many parts that work together to make this happen. The compressor is one of the biggest parts, and it compresses the air that is being filtered.

The compressed air moves through components called sieve bed filters, which are the devices that remove the nitrogen from the air. Inside of the bed filters will be a material called Zeolite that facilitates the removal of the nitrogen. Zeolite is a microporous material with tiny pores that absorb the nitrogen that enters.

Air gets moved through the two sieve bed filters that are in the concentrator. The pure oxygen gets sent to the product tank to be delivered to the individual, and the excess air is sent back to the surrounding room.

Every oxygen concentrator will also have a cooling system that prevents the system from overheating.

Pulse Dose Versus Continuous Flow

Portable oxygen concentrators can function in two different ways.

On one hand, the oxygen concentrators can administer a “pulse dose,” which just means they are controlling the amount of oxygen that goes to the person using the device. The pulse dose also enables the device to conserve oxygen, and this also means that the devices can be smaller and more compact when they administer doses in pulses.

The other type of concentrator is a continuous flow oxygen concentrator, and these deliver oxygen in higher doses and pump oxygen continuously.

Some devices work both ways, and the type of device that somebody else will use often depends on their condition and the amount of oxygen they need to feel better. If somebody is receiving an oxygen concentrator as part of a therapy, the doctor involved will usually recommend or provide the machine that the patient needs for the situation.

How Do the Concentrators Administer Oxygen?

Oxygen concentrators deliver oxygen similar to the oxygen tanks. Patients typically wear a nasal cannula, or oxygen mask, which will have tubes that are connected to the oxygen concentrator itself. The nasal cannula is placed directly in the nostrils, but there may be an entire mask that goes over the individual’s mouth and nose.

Advantages of an Oxygen Concentrator

People use oxygen concentrators over oxygen tanks for all sorts of reasons, and the number one reason is usually convenience.

The portability of the oxygen concentrator gives users greater flexibility, as they aren’t carrying around oxygen tanks wherever they go. However, supplemental oxygen has its own set of benefits that include all of the following:

  • The oxygen concentrator enables users to receive supplemental oxygen all throughout the day, and having access to this can increase survival in some patients. The devices themselves are given to patients struggling with respiratory diseases and other conditions, but the long-term use of oxygen concentrators can relieve some of these symptoms.
  • The use of supplemental oxygen can also increase exercise tolerance. If you are able to exercise while using the machine, you’ll have a better time, and you’ll be able to extend your workout session.
  • Getting enough oxygen is essential to maintain a clear head. Having supplemental oxygen can help patients clear up mental fog and confusion.
  • Chronic lung disease and other respiratory issues can affect the quality of your sleep as well. This supplemental oxygen can help people get a better night’s sleep when they are struggling with a disease or a lung condition.
  • Oxygen therapy is also associated with better mood and self-esteem in some patients.
  • Oxygen also plays a big role in the amount of energy you have throughout the day. The supplemental oxygen from the oxygen concentrator can help individuals feel more energized.

What Are Industrial Oxygen Concentrators?

The portable oxygen concentrator will be roughly the size of a lunchbox, but some of them are a lot larger.

Industrial oxygen concentrators, for example, are much larger, which also means they are not portable. They are often called oxygen generators, and this is because they aren’t often used for medical purposes, so their name distinguishes them from those used in the medical field. They are sometimes used as a feed gas to hospital oxygen systems, but they would typically require government approval.