The question I am most often asked is which portable oxygen concentrator (POC) is the best one. My answer: “The best POC is the one that is right for you – for your oxygen needs and lifestyle.” If you are looking into purchasing a portable oxygen concentrator and you receive an answer that is different from this one, then you are speaking with a salesman trying to make a quick sale, instead of an oxygen or respiratory specialist concerned with your oxygen needs.
Let’s back up and review just a bit from a prior post:
For oxygen on-the-go, portable concentrators are quickly rising to the top as the best source of oxygen. Portable oxygen concentrators are small and easy to carry or wheel on a cart. They work on electrical power in the home, use your car’s battery power when plugged into the automobile outlet, and even work on battery power for maximum portability. That means you can make those travel plans to Seattle to see your grandchildren, or even take that trip to the Rockies.
When considering which portable oxygen concentrator is best, the first thing you need to determine is whether you need a continuous flow of oxygen or if a pulse flow is sufficient.
Continuous flow means the concentrator is producing oxygen continuously whether you are breathing (inhaling) or not. All home/stationary concentrators provide a continuous flow of oxygen.
Pulse flow, also called pulse dose or on-demand, means that the concentrator produces oxygen only when it is triggered by the user’s inhalation (breathing in). When you inhale through the cannula it causes negative air pressure which triggers the concentrator to send a bolus (or puff) of oxygen right at that moment. The concentrator then rests while you are exhaling (breathing out). The concentrator is able to do this through the use of a built-in oxygen conserver, much like those used on oxygen tanks.
When used on an oxygen tank, a conserver does just what its name implies: it conserves the oxygen in the tank, allowing it to last three to five times longer than continuous flow. When placed in a portable concentrator, the conserver allows the machine to produce oxygen at a smaller capacity, but still providing an equivalent amount of oxygen at each setting. By placing a conserver inside an oxygen concentrator, manufacturers have been able to greatly reduce the size of the concentrator, thus allowing for portable oxygen concentrators; and in a portable concentrator that offers both continuous and pulse flow, choosing the pulse flow setting increases the usable battery time.
Most oxygen users find that pulse flow works very well for them during waking hours. However, some oxygen users require at least the option of continuous flow. If you plan to frequently use your portable oxygen concentrator while sleeping, you most likely will need the continuous flow option because people often breathe too shallow to trigger the pulse or do not breathe through their nose at all while sleeping. Also, if you will need to connect your portable oxygen concentrator to a C-PAP or Bi-PAP machine, you must choose a continuous flow concentrator. You may also need a portable concentrator with continuous flow if you typically breathe through your mouth rather than your nose, or if you have high oxygen requirements (5 LPM or greater).
There are currently only a few portable oxygen concentrator models that provide both continuous and pulse flow options:
And there are several portable oxygen concentrator models that provide pulse only flow:
In our next post, we’ll dig a little deeper into how to choose the best portable oxygen concentrator.