How Does an Oxygen Concentrator Work?

how does an oxygen concentrator workhow does an oxygen concentrator work

Do you have low levels of oxygen in your blood due to respiratory problems, such as COPD, asthma, sleep apnea, cystic fibrosis, or lung disease? If so, your doctor may recommend the use of supplemental oxygen. In the past, your choices of oxygen devices were bulky tanks or cylinders that limited mobility and could even be dangerous. Fortunately, oxygen therapy technology has come a long way. Those who are in need of added oxygen can now choose between multiple home or portable oxygen concentrator options. Here, we provide an overview of how oxygen concentrators work and help you choose the best machine to fit your needs.

What is an oxygen concentrator?

An oxygen concentrator device uses a battery or plugs into an outlet to receive, purify, and distribute air for those who have a low level of oxygen in their blood. These devices are lighter and less bulky than traditional oxygen tanks. They can lead to a more active lifestyle for those who have additional oxygen needs.

How does an oxygen concentrator work?

Normal air comprises 80% nitrogen and 20% oxygen. This is not an issue for people who have normal levels of oxygen in their blood. However, some individuals with low levels struggle with converting normal air into the oxygen their bodies need. An oxygen concentrator takes regular air and purifies it to 90-95% oxygen. To do this, the concentrator uses a compressor that moves air into sieve bed filters to remove the nitrogen. It then distributes the purified oxygen through hoses inserted into the nostrils. The nitrogen is later released back into the air.

There are two different types of oxygen concentrators: home and portable. These machines differ in size, weight, flow, power, and capacity.

How do home oxygen concentrators work?

Home oxygen concentrators are powered through a wall outlet and are intended for stationary therapy. All these machines are in continuous flow mode and deliver a constant rate of oxygen, regardless of inhalation or exhalation. Home oxygen concentrators can deliver anywhere between 1-10 liters per minute of oxygen, based on your prescription. As a result, these machines are heavier. They typically weigh between 40-60 lbs, and are often on wheels to easily be moved from one room to another.

When making a purchase, it is important to compare several factors including liter flow, weight, noise, power usage, and altitude.

Our recommendations:

Philips Respironics EverFlo Oxygen Concentrator with OPI

This is the first ultra-quiet concentrator at an affordable price. Weighing 31 lbs, the EverFLo Q is a small, lightweight, and low maintenance option. This unit delivers 0.5-5 liters per minute of oxygen at a lower power consumption of only 350 watts. It can be used up to 7500 ft altitude and comes with a 3-year warranty.

Inogen At Home

The energy-efficient Inogen At Home is one of the lightest and quietest home oxygen concentrators on the market today. It runs at very low power consumption levels, thus saving you money! The device weighs only 18 lbs and delivers 1-5 liters per minute of oxygen. It can be used at an altitude of up to 8000 ft. The machine also comes with a 3-year warranty.

How do portable oxygen concentrators work?

Portable oxygen concentrators provide supplemental oxygen in various different settings, whether at home or on the go. There are two types of portable oxygen concentrators: continuous flow and pulse dose.

Continuous Flow Portable Oxygen Concentrators

Continuous flow oxygen concentrators deliver oxygen at a constant rate without paying attention to inhalation or exhalation. This mode allows oxygen to also be hooked up to PAP machine. However, since oxygen is constant, the device uses more battery power. These machines are usually bigger in size and can supply higher oxygen demands. Note: Not all portable oxygen concentrators have a continuous flow mode.

Our Recommendations:

Philips Respironics SimplyGo Portable Oxygen Concentrator

Known for its lightweight and compact battery, SimplyGo makes daily use simple with no external battery belts, connectors, or inaccessible internal batteries. Instead, the 10-lb device offers both continuous flow or pulse dose settings. The machine passed testing in various extreme conditions including impact, vibrations, and temperatures. The FAA approves this device for use in flight.

DeVilbiss iGo Portable Oxygen Concentrator with Wheeled Case

Weighing 20 lbs, this oxygen system delivers both continuous flow and pulse dose options. Use either a rechargeable battery or AC/DC power source. Plus, the device will automatically switch to battery if power is interrupted. Finally, a built-in oxygen sensing device guarantees that oxygen is delivered accurately. The FAA approves this device for use in-flight.

Pulse Dose Portable Oxygen Concentrators

Pulse dose oxygen concentrators deliver oxygen only when the patient inhales and stops when they exhale. This reduces battery usage as compared to continuous flow mode and allows for smaller device sizes. However, your prescription will need to specify a pulse dose settings.

Our Recommendation:

Inogen One G4 Portable Concentrator

The smallest, lightest, and quietest unit of its type, the Inogen G4 weighs only 2.8 lbs and uses a single battery system. The device uses either a charged battery or plugs into an AC/DC outlet. The machine offers pulse dose settings 1-3 but does not have a continuous flow mode option.

Philips Respironics SimplyGo Mini Portable Oxygen Concentrator

The newest oxygen concentrator from Philips, this machine offers two battery options. With the standard battery that lasts 4.5 hours on 2 pulse setting, the device weighs 5 lbs. With the extended battery that lasts up to 9 hours on 2 pulse setting, the device weighs 6 lbs. The machine is lightweight, easy to use, and FAA-approved.

Which oxygen concentrator is best for you?

Oxygen concentrators are an excellent alternative to traditional oxygen tanks or cylinders. They can help those with low oxygen flow to live a more active lifestyle. To get started, your doctor will need to prescribe either a pulse dose or continuous flow setting. Our team is available by phone or email to help answer your questions or offer suggestions as to which device best fits your needs.   

This post was originally published on August 5, 2019 and updated on November 9, 2023. 

Chris Vasta

Chris Vasta is the president of The CPAP Shop and an expert in sleep and respiratory therapy. He often provides insights on product design and functionality on various manufacturers’ prototypes and is frequently tapped to provide reviews on new releases.