Oxygen is one of the elements that’s essential for human life. Earth’s atmosphere is composed of about 20% oxygen which is the perfect amount for someone with healthy lungs to breathe easily. However, the farther you go up in altitude, the thinner the air becomes meaning you have to inhale more air to get the same amount of oxygen. This is why many mountain climbers use special devices that allow them to get the oxygen they need.
In much the same way, someone with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or other respiratory conditions may need to use oxygen at high altitudes. If you’re not yet prescribed oxygen, you may need to rent an oxygen device before traveling. And if you’re already on oxygen, you may need to increase the flow rate of your device in order to account for the change in altitude.
No matter which camp you’re in, you’re going to need an oxygen device that can operate at high altitudes and enables you to get around easily without becoming breathless or fatigued. In this post, we’ll take a look at why it’s important to use oxygen at high altitudes and list some of the best portable oxygen concentrators for use at high altitudes.
The Importance of Having Access to Reliable Oxygen at High Altitudes
If you’re traveling to a higher altitude to visit a mountain town, or to do some skiing or hiking, you need to first consider how the altitude will affect you. Altitude sickness is a condition that can affect anyone, regardless of their age or health. But it’s more likely to occur in people who have either lived close to sea level or they have a lung condition such as COPD, asthma, or pulmonary fibrosis (PF).
Essentially, altitude sickness is what happens when you quickly go from low altitude to high altitude. It occurs when your body has a difficult time adjusting to the lack of oxygen and it can result in symptoms such as breathlessness, nausea, confusion, and fatigue. There are three different types of altitude sickness: acute mountain sickness (AMS), high-altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE), and high-altitude cerebral edema (HACE).
Acute mountain sickness is the most common and mildest form of altitude sickness. HAPE often comes on more quickly and severely than AMS and it’s the number one cause of death due to altitude sickness. Lastly, HACE is a type of altitude sickness that results in cerebral edema. This is when fluid builds up in the brain causing confusion, nausea, and can even cause a coma.
Having a reliable source of oxygen is very important if you’re a COPD patient. Even the mildest form of altitude sickness, AMS, can be serious for COPD patients because it can result in exacerbations and low blood oxygen levels. In addition to a reliable portable oxygen concentrator, you should plan your trip in a way that gives you time to acclimate to the change of altitude. Another thing to note is that any exercise you do, such as hiking or skiing will further increase your breathlessness.
Without further ado, let's take a look at the top 5 portable oxygen concentrators for high altitude...
5.) Caire FreeStyle Comfort (10,000 feet)
The Caire FreeStyle Comfort is one of only a few portable oxygen concentrators to be released in the past couple of years. And, unsurprisingly, it’s also one of the best. While Caire Inc. is a brand you might not recognize, they’re actually one of the top oxygen manufacturers in the world, selling products under the name “SeQual” and “AirSep.”
The Caire FreeStyle Comfort is a pulse dose portable oxygen concentrator meaning it only puts out oxygen when the user inhales. What this means is that this device is very efficient with long battery life and a lightweight design that won’t cause you any unneeded strain as you go about your day. It’s one of only a handful of concentrators that weighs under 5 pounds and it’s currently the most reliable portable oxygen concentrator on the market.
The FreeStyle Comfort has a maximum oxygen output of 1,050 ml/min and it has a maximum pulse flow setting of 5. This offers you plenty of room to adjust your oxygen flow as you move up and down in altitude. You’ll never have to stress about running out of oxygen either since this device offers up to 16 hours of battery life on one charge using the 16-cell battery. You can always carry an extra battery too if you want an extra safety net.
This mobile oxygen generator provides users with an ergonomic design. Unlike many other oxygen devices, it has a curved shape that fits comfortably at your side. When you walk around it will stay at your hip rather than swaying around causing you to lose balance. This is a small detail but it just goes to show that Caire Inc. has gone the extra mile to ensure oxygen patients are as comfortable as possible.
4.) Inogen One G5 (10,000 feet)
The Inogen One G5 has been neck-in-neck with the Caire FreeStyle Comfort since it was first manufactured. Inogen Inc. has been a household name when it comes to reliable lightweight oxygen devices, and the G5 is their latest and greatest product. One of the unique things about the G5 is that it combines all the best features of its previous generations of oxygen concentrators.
While the Inogen One G4, the last generation of Inogen units, was the second lightest portable oxygen concentrator ever produced, it lacked the oxygen output to satisfy the needs of the majority of oxygen patients. Much like the FreeStyle Comfort, the G5 weighs under 5 pounds, but it also offers a higher oxygen output at 1,260 ml/min or 6 pulse flow settings. What this means is that more oxygen patients — even those who have high oxygen demands — can experience the freedom of owning a portable oxygen concentrator.
Another unique feature of the Inogen One G5 is Inogen Connect, a mobile application that affords you more control over how you use your oxygen concentrator. This application connects your phone wirelessly to your concentrator and enables you to check your battery life and adjust your flow setting without ever touching your oxygen device. This is especially useful for people who use the Inogen G5 backpack and don’t want to take it off constantly to check their G5.
When it comes to using medical oxygen at high altitudes, most people will find that the G5 has just as much, if not more to offer than the Caire FreeStyle Comfort. It has the same maximum operational altitude at 10,000 ft and it offers a little more oxygen output in case your blood oxygen level drops and you need to move up a couple of flow settings. You can also rest easy knowing you own a mobile oxygen machine manufactured by one of the most trusted names in the industry.
3.) Respironics SimplyGo (10,000 feet)
The Respironics SimplyGo is a continuous flow portable oxygen concentrator released by Philips in 2012. The term “continuous flow” indicates that it puts out a constant stream of oxygen irrespective of the user’s breathing rate. This is problematic because it means oxygen is coming out of the device even when the user isn’t inhaling. In other words, the SimplyGo is less efficient than the two devices listed above.
With that being said, the Respironics SimplyGo is still an excellent portable oxygen delivery device for certain people. For example, if your doctor requires that you use continuous flow oxygen rather than pulse dose, the SimplyGo will be one of your best options. It’s the lightest continuous flow unit, weighing in at 10 pounds, and it also has the same maximum operational altitude as the FreeStyle Comfort and Inogen G5 at 10,000 ft above sea level.
While the Respironics SimplyGo is light enough to be carried on your shoulder or back, you’ll probably be more comfortable using a carrying cart and wheeling it around. And since the batteries are placed in the top of the unit, you won’t have to flip the device over or remove your carrying case in order to replace them. This is very convenient when you’re traveling and don’t have much time to stop.
4.) AirSep FreeStyle 5 (12,000 feet)
AirSep is a brand that’s been in the oxygen industry for a long time, and it shows. Over the years, they’ve manufactured oxygen concentrators that are trusted by millions of people. They always show a constant desire to innovate their products and adapt them for a new generation of people who expect more portability and comfort from their oxygen devices.
Much like Inogen’s “G” line of POCs, AirSep has their “FreeStyle” line of POCs. The FreeStyle 5 was released quite a few years ago. But despite its age, the FreeStyle 5 still stands out as one of the best wearable oxygen concentrators on the market. It provides oxygen users with 1,000 ml/min of pulse dose oxygen and 5 different pulse dose options. What’s more, it only weighs 6.7 pounds meaning it’s significantly lighter than the lightest continuous flow portable oxygen concentrator.
The FreeStyle 5 is an outstanding option for anyone who wants to travel to high altitudes because its maximum operating altitude is 12,000 feet above sea level. Considering the city in the United States with the highest altitude is just over 10,000 feet, the FreeStyle 5 will more than suit your needs.
Like all oxygen concentrators on this list, the FreeStyle 5 comes equipped with both AC and DC charging options. In other words, you’ll be able to charge your POC at home or in hotels via a wall outlet as well as in a vehicle via the electrical outlet. If you’re traveling to another country you can purchase a charging adapter. However, be sure to check the user manual before doing this to make sure you’re using the right voltage.
5.) SeQual Eclipse 5 (13,123 feet)
The SeQual Eclipse 5 is known for offering the highest oxygen output of any portable oxygen concentrator. It can put out a maximum of 3 liters per minute of continuous oxygen and it has 9 different pulse flow settings as well. But what many people don’t know is that the SeQual Eclipse 5 also holds the record for the highest operational altitude of 13,123 feet above sea level.
Despite how powerful the Eclipse 5 is, it is very heavy. It weighs around 18.4 pounds which is nearly four times as much as the FreeStyle Comfort and Inogen One G5. It’s also extremely bulky, so if you’re looking to do some hiking or skiing, the Eclipse 5 is not the oxygen concentrator for you. This unit is best for people with high oxygen demands who still want to be able to travel or live at high altitudes.
Since the SeQual Eclipse 5 has both continuous flow and pulse dose you’ll have enough options to suit whatever situation you’re in. If you have obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and you need to use a CPAP machine while you sleep, you can switch to continuous flow on your Eclipse 5 and use it simultaneously with positive airway pressure. On the other hand, if you’re out and about and you want to conserve battery life, you can switch over to the pulse dose setting.
Whether you’re going to high altitude for a short vacation or to live, you need to ensure that your oxygen device will function properly. Not all oxygen devices have the same maximum operational altitude, and you should take into account other factors such as the device’s portability, battery life, and reliability. All of the devices on this list are approved by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) meaning you’ll be able to fly on any commercial flight within the United States while using your POC.
No matter whether you’re traveling to high altitude soon or you’re trying to plan for the long term, be sure to reach out to our respiratory specialists here at LPT Medical. It’s our highest priority to find you a portable oxygen concentrator that meets both your wants and your needs. We start by asking you about what oxygen flow you need. We then start to narrow down your options based on your lifestyle.
If you have any questions, feel free to leave them in the comment section so that we can get back to you. And if you’re ready to learn more about oxygen concentrators, give us a call or email us.