Portable oxygen is a term that usually refers to portable oxygen concentrators or portable oxygen tanks. These machines provide extra oxygen to people that can’ t get enough oxygen naturally.
Oxygen is a gas found in the air we breathe (21%) and is necessary for human life. Oxygen is necessary to provide energy, not only for the metabolism of food, but also for all cellular activity. Some people with breathing disorders can’t get enough oxygen naturally. They may need oxygen therapy. People who receive oxygen therapy often see better quality of life and sleep.
Oxygen therapy is prescribed for people who can’t get enough oxygen on their own. This is often because of lung conditions that prevents the lungs from absorbing oxygen, including:
- Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
- Bronchopulmonary dysplasia
- Underdeveloped lungs in newborns
- Heart failure
- Cystic fibrosis
- Sleep apnea
- Lung disease
- Trauma to the respiratory system
Oxygen therapy can be extremely beneficial for those who frequently experience low oxygen levels, regardless of the reason. If needed, regularly utilizing oxygen therapy can allow people to be more active and mobile by decreasing shortness of breath.
Oxygen therapy can be provided through home oxygen or portable oxygen machines.
Portable oxygen concentrators
Portable Oxygen Concentrators (POCS), are light, small and quiet devices that allow you to receive supplemental oxygen while out of the home.
Portable Oxygen Concentrators deliver oxygen by pulse dose in bursts. Some units can also deliver oxygen continuously at a steady rate.
How to choose a portable oxygen concentrator
There are quite a few portable concentrators on the market and each one has a different set of features. Not all models are suitable for all home oxygen users and it is best to ask your healthcare team for help in selecting one that is right for you.
Also, given that a portable concentrator may cost a lot new and cannot usually be returned or exchanged, it is well worth spending some time researching your options before you buy one. If possible, also try before you buy.
Most portable concentrators deliver oxygen in a pulsed dose, which means you receive oxygen when you breathe in, but not when you breathe out. This system is suitable for many people, but not everyone. Portable concentrators that deliver a continuous flow of oxygen tend to be heavier. Also, some machines can deliver enough oxygen for those requiring higher flow rates and others cannot. It is critical to test the portable concentrator you are considering (with the help of your healthcare team) before you purchase it, to make sure it will deliver enough oxygen for your needs.
There are several models of portable oxygen concentrators on the market.
There are some machines on the market that offer both continuous and pulse flow. These machines offer flexibility as they are great for nocturnal use, use with sleep apnea equipment and during the day on pulse dose.
The best solution is the one that keeps you healthy and covers your demands.
As well as checking whether the portable concentrator can meet your current oxygen needs, it is also wise to ask your healthcare team for an opinion on whether they believe the machine is likely to meet your oxygen needs in the future.
Portable concentrators come in a range of different weights. Some can be carried on your back and others wheeled.
Test out the weight yourself at home. Put an equivalent weight into a backpack or onto a wheeling device and try carrying it around with you for a while.
Battery life will vary from model to model. Factors such as your flow rate and the number of breaths you take per minute will also affect how long your battery lasts for.
Is my portable oxygen concentrator approved by airlines?
Prior to the flight, both a passenger intending to use a POC on an aircraft and the operator of the aircraft on which the POC is intended to be used are responsible for determining whether the POC satisfies the FAA acceptance criteria.
POCs With Manufacturer’s Labels.
The passenger and the aircraft operator can determine whether the POC conforms to the acceptance criteria through a visual inspection of the device to locate the manufacturer’s label indicating such conformance.
POCs Without Manufacturer’s Labels.
If the device does not bear the required label, the passenger and the aircraft operator may determine compliance by identifying the manufacturer and model name and confirming that the POC appears on the list of devices contained in §§ 121.574, 125.219, and 135.91.
Some airlines disclose a list of POCs and confirm the possibility to use them during flight. Some they provide contact information to confirm if your device is permissible.
Best portable oxygen concentrators
How to use a portable oxygen concentrator
It might be daunting at first to get started with a new oxygen device, but with practice, you will gain confidence and adjust to life with oxygen therapy. Oxygen therapy may help you become more active and get you back doing the activities you enjoy. Staying active helps you stay healthy.
If you use a humidifier bottle, start by filling it with distilled water and attach it to the oxygen outlet.
Oxygen can be drying to your nose so some patients use a humidifier bottle that can be attached to your home unit to help moisten the oxygen you inhale. To get started using your Portable Oxygen Concentrators (POCS), attach your nasal cannula.
Turn on the device and set the flow prescribed by your doctor. The flow rate, or number of liters per minute, is your prescription. Do not self-adjust your oxygen flow rate without consulting your doctor
You can look at the display to see how much battery life is remaining. Always carry an extra battery if you think you might be out of the house for a long time.
Wash the nasal cannula or face mask weekly with mild dish soap and warm water and let air dry . You can Clean them more frequently if you want . Be sure not to get water in the tubing and replace it if it is damaged. You can get replacement tubing from your oxygen supplier.
Clean your humidifier bottle every two days with warm water and mild dish soap. Make sure you rinse out all of the soap with hot water. Then soak it in a vinegar and water solution for a few minutes to help get rid of any extra bacteria. Dry the bottle with a paper towel, and then let it air dry.
Clean the machine’s filter once a month by removing the filter and dipping into a clean container filled with water and mild dish soap. Scrub the filter with a washcloth to remove any small pieces of dirt or dust and rinse it under water to remove all soap residues. Then set the filter on a clean, dry towel and let it air dry completely before putting it back in the machine.
Portable oxygen tanks
Oxygen tanks are metal tanks that store compressed oxygen and can be used in and out of the home.
The smaller the tank, the less oxygen it holds.
Portable oxygen tanks
are smaller cylinders that can be used when leaving
the home. They can be wheeled, attached to a wheeled walker
or wheelchair or may be carried in a bag or backpack.
Choosing a portable oxygen tank
How long am I going to need this equipment?
Are you going to need portable oxygen for a short time or for the longer term? You may also wish to have portable
equipment for use on a holiday or other situation where it is impractical to take your concentrator.
Do I need a back-up plan for my home oxygen?
If you are a long term oxygen user, you may wish to have some form of back-up oxygen supply that you can use
if your home concentrator fails or there is an emergency. This is commonly a large portable oxygen tank. You
may already have received one as part of a funding package, but if not, then you can arrange for one yourself.
Portable oxygen tanks can also be used instead of the home concentrator if there is a power failure.
What size tank can I manage?
Base your decision on what you can either wheel, carry or attach to a wheeled walker or wheelchair.
If mounting the tank to a wheeled walker, consider your need to continue using the seat. Larger portable
tanks may rest across the bars under the seat if they are appropriately secured.
Make sure that you can lift the tank into the car or onto the bus or train. The smaller the tank
the lighter it will be, but the sooner it will be empty.
If you are going out on your own, make sure the effort of taking a tank with you does not create more difficulties
than being out without the oxygen.
Determine how long you will be out for and how much of this time you may wish to use tank oxygen. The
bigger the tank the longer it will last, but the heavier it will be. Choose the biggest tank you can easily manage.
Portable oxygen is made for traveling and outdoor activities.
Preparation is the key to successful travel with portable oxygen.
• Plan your trip well ahead
• Clearance and written medical advice from your doctor is essential
• Check with all the services that you are going to travel with regarding their specific requirements
• Carry all emergency contact details for all your services with you
• Take a copy of your oxygen prescription
• Check with your travel insurance that the oxygen is included and covered
• If going overseas, check that you can recharge/fill up your oxygen appliance in the countries you
will be visiting
• Research the details of the nearest hospital to where you will be staying
• Make sure the people you are travelling with are familiar with your oxygen appliance
• Carry spare nasal prongs and tubing
• Have a contingency plan should your appliance breakdown/run out
Travelling by car with portable oxygen:
• When travelling by car and using oxygen therapy always ensure that you have a window open. If using air conditioning, ensure that it is on fresh and not recycled as it is best not to get a build up of concentrated oxygen in the car.
• If using a portable concentrator make sure it is secured and check with the manufacturer’s specific instructions.
• If using tanks, ensure that they are secured either upright in the appropriate device such as a carrier or lying down behind the passenger’s seat. Once again please check with the manufacturers or supplier’s instructions as these may vary.
Travelling by bus:
• Most bus lines will allow you to travel with oxygen – it is advisable to contact them directly.
You can find more information in our article “How to travel with oxygen by car/bus/taxi“
Travelling by train with portable oxygen:
• Most Train lines will allow you to travel with oxygen – it is advisable to contact them directly
• Some train lines won’t guarantee power to recharge your oxygen concentrator, but if they do some portable oxygen concentrators can run on power from the train –it is best to check first
• Some train services will require you to notify them in advance of your needs
• If travelling on international train services you may require your doctor’s letter noting your
• Some train lines have restrictions on cylinder sizes and number of cylinders and may require you to provide a strap to secure the cylinder to your seat. You can find more information about travelling by train here.
Travelling with portable oxygen by air
Fly with portable oxygen
There are hundreds of airlines, traveling all around the world every day. Unfortunately, there isn’t a standard policy for all the airlines regarding the use of therapeutic oxygen on board. Every airline has its own supplemental oxygen policy. For example, there are airlines that have their own therapeutic oxygen devices onboard (some charge it, some don’t). Others allow passengers to bring their Portable Oxygen Concentrator (POC) devices and use them during the flight. Some others restrict any kind of oxygen device on board.
In USA Air carriers conducting passenger service must permit someone with a disability to use an FAA-approved portable oxygen concentrator (POC) on all flights (on aircraft originally designed to have a maximum passenger capacity of more than 19 seats).
Purchase or rent portable oxygen?
Different companies offer different sized cylinders. You may need to try a couple of sizes before deciding
which is most manageable for you. Many companies charge the same price for the hire of portable cylinders,
no matter what size they are. The smaller the cylinder you choose, the more you may need to hire and therefore
the more it may cost. You may decide to choose a mix of cylinders for different situations.
Many companies also offer long-term rental agreements for portable concentrators. This is often a good option for those planning to travel overseas or to be away from home for an extended period.
Because it is so important to test a portable concentrator before you buy it or rent it long-term, many companies offer a trial program or a short-term rental program. Some pulmonary rehabilitation or respiratory outreach programs use portable oxygen concentrators and are able to arrange short trials too.
If you have a choice of suppliers where you live, it is important to do a little research, so you choose a company that is right for you. Shop around for equipment, cost, service and local access that best suits you.
If the cost of a new portable concentrator is an issue, you could consider purchasing a second hand one. Each portable concentrator has a running meter which tells you how many hours it has been used. By comparing this to the hours the manufacturer expects the machine to last, you will get a clearer picture of how much longer the machine may last and when the battery may need to be replaced. If it is still under warranty, ask if the warranty can be transferred to a second owner. Before purchasing a concentrator, have it checked by an oxygen distributor to ensure it is in proper working order.