What is an Oxygen Concentrator & How to Operate One
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What is an Oxygen Concentrator & How to Operate One

A patient using an oxygen concentrator

What is an Oxygen Concentrator?

An oxygen concentrator is a medical gadget used to deliver oxygen to patients with lung disease and breathing disorders. People whose blood is not rich in oxygen (has low oxygen) to the required levels, need the oxygen concentrators to replace the oxygen. You cannot buy the gadget over the counter; you have to be evaluated fully by your doctor to get a prescription. The doctor will also teach you how to use a portable oxygen concentrator safely at home. The doctor will also be able to give you handy tips for traveling with oxygen concentrator.

What are the Uses of an Oxygen Concentrator?

There are many reasons as to why a doctor can recommend home oxygen concentrators as therapy for their patients. Basically, your lungs absorb the air’s oxygen and transfer it to your bloodstream.

If you’ve had pulse oximetry or bloodwork recently, to assess your oxygen levels, the practitioner may recommend short or long term oxygen therapy depending on the situation.

So what is an oxygen concentrator used for? Acute conditions require short term oxygen therapy. Acute conditions may have a sudden onset show of symptoms, unlike chronic illnesses that happen gradually. However, some chronic and respiratory conditions will require a long-term oxygen supplement.

Acute Conditions Requiring an Oxygen Concentrator

Here are an example of a few acute conditions that require oxygen concentration for a short duration;

Asthma: An asthma patient has their airways inflamed hence producing a lot of mucus; complicating their breathing. Various pharmaceuticals can treat asthma. However, an oxygen concentrator could be appropriate during or after an attack; to assist in continuous flow of oxygen in high levels to the bloodstream.

Pneumonia: Pneumonia leads to the inflammation of one or both of your lungs air sacs, filling it with fluid, in many cases. Short prescription of oxygen therapy has shown great clinical results.

Respiratory distress syndrome (RDS): This breathing disorder mainly affects newborns, especially those who are born six months before their date. Newborns suffering from RDS don’t create enough lung coating liquid (surfactant). The illness makes their lungs collapse,thereby reducing the breath rate. Oxygen therapy helps in pumping oxygen into the babies’ bloodstream and reducing lung complications.

Bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD): Kids suffering from RDS stand a high chance of getting BPD. This is a serious severe lung condition which needs long term use of oxygen.

Also, in most cases, you may require oxygen concentration after surgery for a short time.

Chronic Diseases that Require Oxygen Therapy

Some of the problems that require oxygen therapy on a long term basis include;

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease affects more than 16 million individuals, but an oxygen concentrator can be an effective treatment. COPD destroys the lungs making it very difficult for the patient to absorb oxygen. Subsequently, you have difficulty breathing, and oxygen therapy through the concentrator could be of great help.

Cystic fibrosis: Cystic fibrosis is an inherited condition; it causes digestive and lung damage. It affects body sections that produce mucus, digestive juices, and sweat. The fluids are changed, resulting in thicker, stickier that plugs the ducts, passages, and ducts of the infected people.

Sleep Apnea: This is a severe sleeping disorder that causes patient breathing to stop and start during their sleep, thereby affecting the oxygen supply. The treatment of the condition is physical exercise, weight loss, and continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP). Some people suffering from the ailment could benefit from oxygen therapy.

How to Use the Portable Oxygen Cylinder Correctly

The portable oxygen cylinder is an oxygen therapy product that allows you to go shopping, run errands, go for vacations, and generally move around as you please. An additional portable unit can significantly improve the quality of life of a patient.

The cylinder contains medical grade oxygen (99% or better), compressed into a cylinder of 2,000 pounds per square inch (lb/in2) (p.s.i). Other cylinders can hold up to 3000 p.s.i.

There is a regulator at the top of the cylinder which reduces the 2000 p.s.i to a more workable 50 p.s.i. The same regulator shows the flow rate of oxygen output as well as the remaining pressure in the cylinder. The flow rate is set as per the physician’s instructions. The flow rate is set using the control knob.

A while back, the typical portable concentrator used to be the E cylinder with a two-wheeled cart. Today, most of the cylinders are made using aluminum. The latter is lighter than the past cylinders that weighed 30 pounds as they were made of steel.

Below is a simple guide on using your regulator and portable oxygen cylinder;

1.Attaching the regulator

  • Remove the sealing tape from the cylinders valve system
  • Slightly open the cylinder, letting a rush of oxygen out; and close the valve immediately. This is to remove any dust that may be in the cylinder valve outlet.
  • Next, see that the regulator has an excellent washer. If the latter is lacking and you open the cylinder, you will hear a loud rush, and lose a lot of oxygen in the process.
  • Slide the regulator over the cylinder lining up to the two pins in the regulator with two holes in the cylinder valve system. The regulator is in the right place when the two pins fit in the two holes. Tighten using the T bar on the regulator.

PS: Ensure the valve outlet is not pointing to anyone during this process.

2.Operating the Portable Cylinder:

  • Open the cylinder valve (turning anticlockwise) using a toggle bar or oxygen wrench. You will see the pressure start to reduce, if nothing happens to the needle, you might have run out of continuous oxygen, and you require a new cylinder.
  • Turn your oxygen flow rate as prescribed by your physician. Attach your oxygen tube to the regulator, place the cannula/oxygen mask on your face, and adjust to your comfort.

3.Turning off the Portable:

  • Using the cylinder wrench if attached, turn the valve clockwise and see the content needle on the regulator. When the needle hits zero, turn the flow control knob to the closed position. It is now safe to store.

A doctor examining a patient before prescribing an oxygen concentrator. Remember only your practitioner can advice you on your flow rate.

How long does an oxygen tank last?

An E cylinder being used non-stop with a flow rate of 2 liters/minute would go up to 5 hours. The smaller tank was the D cylinder, which with the same flow rate could last for 3 hours. The latter had a carrying strap that could be hanged on the shoulders and weighed 9lbs.

The smallest and lightest cylinders are used with a system known as the pulse dose. The latter gives a burst of oxygen at the beginning of the inspiration and slows down and stops at the end of inspiration and exhalation; hence saving a lot of oxygen.  The pulse dose can, therefore, provide a patient with more hours of oxygen even with a smaller cylinder.

While the pulse flow sounds like a very great deal; it is not for everyone. Your doctor has to approve of your using a pulse dose. Also, you must show that you can have good blood saturation while on the pulse dose system. If the oxygen level decreases during the pulse flow, it may not be the best option for you.

How to Calculate How Long an Oxygen Tank Will Last

You do not want to run out of oxygen with no warning. Through these simple calculations, you can know the amount of oxygen in your cylinder all the time;

  1. Determine the current cylinder pressure of the tank. Use the pressure gauge on the cylinder for the oxygen tank. For example, let’s assume it is 2000 p.s.i.
  2. Find the safe residual of your oxygen tank. This is a precaution factor to see that patients do not run out of oxygen suddenly. You can contact your physician or use your manual to get this information. The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons recommends a minimum residual of 200 p.s.i.
  3. Subtract the minimum residual from the total oxygen pressure to know the available pressure.
  4. Available pressure (using the figures above) = 2000 p.s.i – 200 p.s.i = 1800 p.s.i.
  5. Find the conversion factor to convert the pressure into liters. Oxygen tanks conversation rate vary according to size based on the following schedule;
  6. D size = 0.16 E size = 0.28 G size = 2.41 H and K size = 3.14 M size = 1.56
  7. Let’s use D as an example, which has a conversation of 0.16
  8. Multiply the available pressure with the pressure conversion factor to get the available liters.
  9. Continuing with the above example; Available liters = 1,800 x 0.16 = 288 liters
  10. Determine your flow rate. The doctor prescribes the flow rate in liters per minute. For our case, let’s assume the flow rate is 0.5liters/minute
  11. Divide the available liters by the flow rate to get flow duration
  12. Duration = 288/0.5 = 576 minutes.


 Wrapping Up

Sometimes ailments can get the best of us or our loved ones. This can be sad as it may be hard to lead a normal life with some of the ailments such as asthma, Sleep Apnea, Cystic fibrosis, among others. However, it is still possible to have a quality life with portable health care equipment like oxygen concentrators which have been made to enhance movement.

To avoid any accidents when using the home concentrators at residence or while traveling, read and understand the necessary precautions.

It is also vital to learn how to calculate the amount of oxygen remaining to avoid ugly incidents. If your parents are using the medical oxygen tank, take time to educate them on how to handle their devices and how to calculate the oxygen they have remaining. This helps them know when to call for help as well as manage personal care.