An oxygen concentrator is a therapeutic medical device that is used to help individuals with specific lung disorders. It is designed to extract oxygen from the ambient air, concentrate it, and then store it until it is needed for delivery to the patient. Oxygen concentrators are generally considered the most convenient, easiest, and least expensive method for oxygen therapy. Almost 80% of Medicare home oxygen patients use oxygen concentrators in their daily lives.

Before portable oxygen was available it was necessary to use heavy steel aluminum cylinders which served as a supply of pure oxygen. Things changed after the oxygen concentrator was invented. A concentrator does not store oxygen like the aluminum cylinders of the past. It produces and distributes it on a continuous basis. It takes the regular air, which normally contains 21% oxygen, and removes the nitrogen. The resulting air is 95.5 percent pure oxygen. In actuality, concentrators produce oxygen that is generally between 87 and 95 percent pure–the higher the setting, the less pure. Medicare requires the purity to be greater than 85 percent.

Oxygen concentrators are very reliable and easy to maintain. Keeping the intake filter clean and clear of dust being the most important. This should be done weekly. There are also some very important safety issues. Oxygen is the most dangerous in the presence of fire. There should be no smoking, no flammable materials, and no heat sources near a working oxygen concentrator.

Oxygen concentrators have some limitations, they can’t produce high flow oxygen or a supply of portable oxygen. Light weight cylinders, liquid oxygen systems, and oxygen conservation devices are excellent portable supply systems and each should be discussed with the patient’s physician to determine which is best. Supplemental oxygen is only available in the U.S. by prescription and must meet certain requirements to be covered by Medicare or insurance.

Oxygen Concentrator Maintenance

Your concentrator’s instruction manual will tell you what maintenance is necessary. Here are some additional reminders.

  • Operate the concentrator in a well-ventilated area. It needs good, clean air to operate properly. In a small room, car, or recreational vehicle, keep a window open.
  • Wash filters weekly and replace yearly.
  • Have an oxygen provider examine your concentrator at least once a year.
  • Rebuild the compressor every five years.

Your concentrator should have an oxygen sensing device. This sensor monitors the level of oxygen produced by the concentrator and warns you with both visual and audible alarms when that level falls too low. It is a option on some concentrators. If yours has this device, you will see its visual indicator on the face of your concentrator. If yours does not, you should have your concentrator tested for its oxygen output on a quarterly basis.