Oxygen is one of the most abundant gases in the atmosphere making up around 21 percent of the air that we breathe. All organisms need oxygen to survive because it plays a pivotal role in a process called cellular respiration. During this process, glucose from the food that we eat reacts with oxygen to form adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the primary energy carrier in living organisms.
But it’s not just about getting oxygen in your lungs; it’s also about getting the right amount of oxygen. Everyone should have a blood oxygen level between 75 and 100 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg), so if you have a chronic respiratory illness like COPD or pulmonary fibrosis which reduces the amount of oxygen in your bloodstream, you’ll need to rely on supplemental oxygen therapy.
Despite being necessary for human life, medical oxygen is considered a “controlled substance” by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration because it poses several risks if it is used incorrectly. Getting too much oxygen in your blood can result in a condition called oxygen toxicity (hyperoxia). Most cases of oxygen toxicity lead to headaches, confusion, and sleepiness, but continued exposure to high partial pressures of oxygen can cause permanent damage to your lungs and body.
While it may seem scary being prescribed supplemental oxygen, it’s not all bad! If you use oxygen exactly how it was advised by your doctor you’ll find that supplemental oxygen is very safe. Here at LPT Medical we also strongly recommend using a portable oxygen concentrator which is much safer and more reliable than other oxygen devices such as oxygen tanks, liquid oxygen tanks, and stationary oxygen concentrators.
Stick around if you’re interested in learning more about oxygen concentrator safety and feel free to leave any questions or comments in the section below.
Why Are Portable Oxygen Concentrators Safer?
First off, you may be wondering why portable oxygen concentrators are considered “safe” in the first place. After all, they put out medical grade oxygen just like oxygen tanks, liquid oxygen tanks, and stationary oxygen concentrators. So, you might assume that it comes with all the same risks that are associated with these other devices. However, this is not necessarily the case.
Portable oxygen concentrators are the most advanced oxygen delivery devices ever created. They’re a product of many years of innovation and research, so it goes without saying that their safety features are more advanced as well. One of the main safety features are modern portable oxygen concentrators is something called pulse dose oxygen delivery. This is a technology that closely tracks your breathing rate and only delivers oxygen when it detects an inhalation.
The main purpose of this is to conserve energy and make your batteries last longer, but it has some major safety benefits as well. If you happen to drop your nasal cannula, the tubing that delivers oxygen to your nose, the flow of oxygen will stop. Since oxygen is an oxidizer, meaning it makes everything it comes in contact with more flammable, this is a groundbreaking feature. Unfortunately, with older oxygen delivery systems such as oxygen tanks or liquid oxygen tanks, this is not possible.
Another major safety feature of portable oxygen concentrators is their size and shape. POCs tend to be very small and box-shaped meaning they’re easy to carry under your arm and they’re not likely to hurt anyone if you accidentally bump into them. Since they’re so light, you’ll never have to wheel them around with a carrying cart which can be a huge tripping hazard for you and people around you.
As you can tell, oxygen manufacturers have worked hard to make POCs as safe as possible, but there are still some things you should look out for. Without further ado, let’s take a look at 7 safety tips for using a portable oxygen concentrator.
Avoid Smoking Near Your Concentrator
Despite smoking causing about 80 percent of COPD cases, many people still smoke when they’re diagnosed. Every doctor will recommend that you quit smoking as soon as possible because continuing to inhale smoke and chemicals will lower your immune system and make you more likely to experience symptom flare-ups and life-threatening exacerbations. But these are just a few of the reasons to quit smoking.
Another very important reason to quit smoking is that they are a fire hazard, especially when you’re using supplemental oxygen therapy. According to the National Fire Protection Association, there were about 18,000 home fires started by cigarette smoking between 2012 and 2016 which accounted for about 5 percent of the total fires. And smoking near your concentrator will not only increase the chance that you’ll start a fire, but it could make it burn more.
While you should not be smoking at all, regardless of whether you’re using supplemental oxygen or not, it’s especially dangerous to smoke next to your POC. Smoking can leave behind embers and ashes that can easily start a fire in the wrong circumstances. You should also take the time to speak with anyone else who lives in your home to make sure they don’t smoke around your oxygen concentrator. Some people prefer putting up “no smoking” signs throughout their home in order to remind visitors not to light up a cigarette without going outside.
Keep Your Concentrator Dry
Portable oxygen concentrators are electronic devices just like your cell phone, computer, or tablet. What this means is that they are extremely susceptible to water damage. There are many sensitive electronic components inside of the concentrator, so if you submerge it in water or water enters through any of the vents, then it could permanently damage your device. There’s also a chance it could harm you if you’re not careful.
The best way to keep your unit dry is to use some type of carrying case. Fortunately, if you are using a popular POC like the Inogen One G5, the Caire FreeStyle Comfort, or the Respironics SimplyGo, there are plenty of options available to you. Even older POCs like the Inogen One G3 have new carrying cases that can keep them dry. The GO2 Carryalls, for example, are made of genuine leather and they fully cover the device preventing it from getting wet. However, there are mesh patches on the side that keep the vents clear of obstruction, so it is possible to let water in if you’re not careful.
Unfortunately, we’re unlikely to see waterproof portable oxygen concentrators anytime in the near future. POCs work by drawing in ambient air and filtering out unnecessary gases like argon and nitrogen so all of these devices are vulnerable to water damage.
Store Your Concentrator in a Secure Place
Another safety consideration to make when purchasing a portable oxygen concentrator is the way you store it. Some people like to have a stationary oxygen concentrator to use in their home and a POC to use when they go out so it’s important to have a plan as to how and where you’re going to store it.
First and foremost, you should store your POC in a well-ventilated area. What this means is that you shouldn’t put it in a confined space because it could damage the unit and create an unnecessary fire risk.
Use the Right Oxygen Tubing
Oxygen tubing is very important when it comes to your safety. Oxygen tubing is what connects to your portable oxygen concentrator and delivers oxygen to your nose. The most common problem people have with oxygen tubing is that it’s too long. If this happens it may drag on the ground and cause a tripping hazard for you and the people around you.
One way to solve this is to invest in tidy tubing. This is a type of oxygen tubing that’s coiled so that the tubing is only as long as you need it to be. Whether you carry your portable oxygen concentrator under your shoulder or you wheel it behind yourself using a rolling cart, the tubing won’t be dragging or dangling in a way that could compromise your safety.
Another safety tip related to oxygen tubing is to check it regularly for signs of damage. If your oxygen tubing is kinked or it has a hole in it, you probably won’t be receiving the right amount of oxygen that you need to stay healthy. If you’re using a pulse dose concentrator which relies on breath detection in order to deliver oxygen at the optimal moment, damaged oxygen tubing could negatively impact this. It’s a good idea to have some backup oxygen tubing and nasal cannulas on hand at all times in the event that something goes wrong.
Another thing you should be doing is cleaning your oxygen tubing regularly. Over time, oxygen tubing can gather bacteria which can lead to you becoming sick if you’re not careful. Since infection is the top cause of COPD exacerbations and we’re in the middle of a pandemic, this should be a top priority for you.
Have Back-Up Batteries on Hand
Although portable oxygen concentrator batteries are extremely reliable, you still shouldn’t go out of the house without at least one backup battery. The reason for this is because you may encounter a situation where you need to stay out of the house longer than you thought and you won’t want to stress about running out of oxygen when you’re not near an outlet. Fortunately, most POC batteries are very lightweight so you won’t be adding a lot of extra weight if you need to carry a couple of extra batteries.
If you are planning on taking a flight, be aware that most airlines will require you to have at least 1.5 times the flight duration in battery life. So, for example, if your flight is 4 hours long, you will need to have at least 6 hours of battery life available to you. This rule is in place to make sure you account for any delays that might occur during your flight. Be sure to contact your airline at least 48 hours before a flight to notify them of your oxygen use and ask about any other safety precautions.
Plan for Power Outages
Power outages are a rare occurrence but they’re still a reality. Since portable oxygen concentrators require electricity to run, you need a power source in order to charge your batteries. One thing many oxygen manufacturers advise is that you contact your utility company and ask about priority service. Some companies have safety measures in place to ensure that people who own oxygen concentrators or other medical devices that rely on electricity can always have access to electricity. Electricity generators are the most common way to do this. For more information, check out this site.
Another thing you should do to plan for power outages is to have an action plan. An action plan, just like the name suggests, will help you be prepared to take action in an urgent moment when you have little time to think about what to do. For example, if your power goes out during a storm, you may need to go without power for several days or upwards of a week. A power generator likely won’t last this long so you’ll need to have an alternative course of action.
Read Your Product’s User Manual
Last but certainly not least, you should have a good grasp on your portable oxygen concentrator’s user manual. The user manual is the paper booklet that is packaged with your device and it describes important information like how to use your device, how to troubleshoot any errors, and most importantly, information about how to use the device safely. Every POC works slightly differently, so even if you have used a POC in the past, it’s a good idea to read through your whole user manual and fully understand it.
All around, portable oxygen concentrators are the safest supplemental oxygen devices on the market. They’re lightweight, have a small form factor, and they’re extremely reliable. But since they deliver medical grade oxygen, there are some inherent precautions you should take before using them.
Above all, your oxygen manufacturer and user manual will be the best resources for you. Every portable oxygen concentrator operates a little differently, so it’s best to fully understand how it works before you begin using it. However, if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to leave a comment or reach out to us.