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Oxygen concentrators: Everything you need to know

By Apollo 24/7, Published on - 06 May 2021

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Since April 2021, India is witnessing a severe outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. The massive surge in cases has overwhelmed the healthcare infrastructure of the country. Many of the COVID-19 patients urgently require oxygen support to survive. But due to an extraordinary upsurge in demand, there is an acute shortage of medical oxygen and oxygen cylinders everywhere. The scarcity of oxygen cylinders has also pushed up the demand for oxygen concentrators.

Right now, oxygen concentrators are among the most sought-after devices for oxygen therapy in home isolation. However, not many people are aware of what these oxygen concentrators are, how to use them, and which is the best one for them? We address all these queries in detail below.

What is an oxygen concentrator?

An oxygen concentrator is a medical device that provides supplemental or extra oxygen to a patient with breathing issues. The device consists of a compressor, sieve bed filter, oxygen tank, pressure valve, and a nasal cannula (or oxygen mask). Like an oxygen cylinder or tank, a concentrator supplies oxygen to a patient via a mask or nasal tubes. However, unlike oxygen cylinders, a concentrator doesn’t require refilling and can provide oxygen 24 hours a day. A typical oxygen concentrator can supply between 5 to 10 litres per minute (LPM) of pure oxygen.

How does the device work?

An oxygen concentrator works by filtering and concentrating oxygen molecules from the ambient air to provide patients with 90% to 95% pure oxygen. The compressor of the oxygen concentrator sucks ambient air and adjusts the pressure at which it is provided. The sieve bed made of a crystalline material called Zeolite separates the nitrogen from the air. A concentrator has two sieve beds that work to both release oxygen into a cylinder as well as discharge the separated nitrogen back into the air. This forms a continuous loop that keeps producing pure oxygen. The pressure valve helps regulate oxygen supply ranging from 5 to 10 litres per minute. The compressed oxygen is then dispensed to the patient through a nasal cannula (or oxygen mask).

Who should use an oxygen concentrator and when?

According to pulmonologists, only mild to moderately ill patients with oxygen saturation levels between 90% to 94% should use an oxygen concentrator under medical guidance. Patients with oxygen saturation levels as low as 85% can also use oxygen concentrators in emergency situations or till they get hospital admission. However, it is recommended that such patients switch to a cylinder with higher oxygen flow and get admitted to a hospital as soon as possible. The device is not advisable for ICU patients. 

What are the different types of oxygen concentrators?

There are two types of oxygen concentrators:

Continuous flow: This type of concentrator supplies the same flow of oxygen every minute unless it is not turned off irrespective of whether the patient is breathing the oxygen or not.

Pulse dose: These concentrators are comparatively smart as they are able to detect the breathing pattern of the patient and release oxygen upon detecting inhalation. The oxygen released by pulse dose concentrators varies per minute.

How are oxygen concentrators different from oxygen cylinders and LMO?

Oxygen concentrators are the best alternatives to cylinders and liquid medical oxygen, which are comparatively very difficult to store and transport. While concentrators are more expensive than cylinders, they are largely a one-time investment and have low operational costs. Unlike cylinders, concentrators don’t require refilling and can keep producing oxygen 24 hours a day using only ambient air and electricity supply. However, the major drawback of concentrators is that they can only supply 5 to 10 litres of oxygen per minute. This makes them unsuitable for critical patients who may require 40 to 45 litres of pure oxygen per minute.

How much do oxygen concentrators cost?

The cost of oxygen concentrators varies depending upon how much oxygen they produce per minute. In India, a 5 LPM oxygen concentrator can cost somewhere around Rs. 40,000 to Rs. 50,000. A 10 LPM oxygen concentrator can cost Rs. 1.3 – 1.5 Lakhs.

Things to consider while buying an oxygen concentrator

Before buying an oxygen concentrator, it is important to consult a physician to know the amount of oxygen per litre that the patient requires. According to medical and industry experts, a person should consider the following points before purchasing an oxygen concentrator:

  • One of the most important factors to consider when buying an oxygen concentrator is to check its flow rate capabilities. Flow rate indicates the rate at which oxygen is able to travel from the oxygen concentrator to the patient. The flow rate is measured in litres per minute (LPM).
  • The capacity of the oxygen concentrator must be higher than your requirement. For example, if you require a 3.5 LPM oxygen concentrator, you should buy a 5 LPM concentrator. Similarly, if your requirement is a 5 LPM concentrator, you should purchase an 8 LPM machine.
  • Check the number of sieves and filters of the oxygen concentrator. The oxygen quality output of a concentrator depends on the number of sieves/ filters. The oxygen produced by the concentrator must be 90-95% pure.
  • Some of the other factors to consider while selecting an oxygen concentrator are power consumption, portability, noise levels, and warranty.

Conclusion

Due to a massive surge in COVID-19 cases all across India, there is an acute shortage of medical oxygen. With oxygen cylinders in short supply, the concentrator has emerged as the most sought-after device for oxygen therapy. However, it is important to note that the device should only be used by people with mild COVID-19.  The device is unsuitable for people with oxygen saturation levels below 85% and those with severe COVID-19. Such people should seek immediate medical attention.

If you have any questions on the Coronavirus, you can speak to our experts through an online doctor consultation.

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