There are three common ways of providing oxygen therapy in the home. The device used to bring oxygen into the body is called an "oxygen delivery system". Each of these forms of oxygen delivery systems also provide a portable or travel solution. Means of home oxygen therapy include:
- Compressed Oxygen Gas Cylinders
- Liquid Oxygen
- Oxygen Concentrators
Compressed oxygen gas tanks and liquid oxygen gas cylinders can be delivered to your home. An oxygen concentrator is a device that you plug into a standard outlet and create oxygen from the air. Oxygen concentrators can be purchased "Out of Pocket" or through your health insurance or Medicare. The safest and often most convenient way of dispensing oxygen is through the use of a portable or home oxygen concentrator.
If oxygen therapy is recommended for you, your physician will write a prescription for you that will determine the flow rate, amount of oxygen needed per minute (LPM) and when to use oxygen. Your next decision is to ascertain the type of oxygen delivery system that is right for you.
This is oxygen that is stored as a gas under pressure in a cylinder equipped with a flow meter and regulator to control the flow rate. The flow of oxygen from the cylinder is constant, so you may want to attach an oxygen-conserving cut-off device. This system is generally prescribed when oxygen therapy is required only occasionally when performing physical activity. Compressed oxygen tanks are under extreme pressure and must be kept upright and handled with care. Large tanks are heavy and not made for mobility. Small cylinders can be filled from the larger tank for movement, but are not allowed on commercial airlines.
A couple of disadvantages of using compressed oxygen for home use are the need for frequent tank refills, explosion and fire hazards of storing compressed oxygen and the obtrusiveness of the tanks themselves.
At extremely cold temperatures, oxygen changes from gas to a liquid. The liquid oxygen is stored in a vessel similar to a thermos. When the oxygen is warmed, it becomes a gas, ready to be delivered. The liquid oxygen system requires less space than compressed gas, but is more expensive to use. Liquid oxygen is often preferred by active individuals because it can be stored temporarily in small cylinders.
Here’s how the system works. A large central unit is located permanently (it will be too heavy to easily relocate after initial installation) in a place away from electrical equipment (like TVs or appliances) that is well ventilated. Liquid oxygen is stored here at extremely low temperatures. To use the oxygen, you must transfer a small amount of liquid oxygen into a travel cylinder that you carry with you (though these types of devices are not allowed on commercial airlines).
Here are some disadvantages of liquid oxygen. One disadvantage is that liquid oxygen cannot be kept for long because it will evaporate. The large tanks must be refilled frequently, requiring the scheduling of deliveries. Another drawback is that liquid oxygen is the most expensive form of continuous home oxygen therapy. Furthermore, the process of using the equipment has been described by users as technical, confusing and hard to remember.
The oxygen concentrator is an electrically operated medical device that extracts air from the room, separates the oxygen from other gases present, and delivers oxygen to the patient, usually through a nasal cannula. There is a built-in flow meter attached to the concentrator to allow the prescribed flow rate to be set. This method of oxygen therapy is less expensive, doesn’t require refilling, easier to maintain and there is no waiting for oxygen deliveries. Oxygen concentrators are beneficial to individuals requiring long-term oxygen therapy (LTOT) because it produces a continuous supply of oxygen without the need to store and replace cylinders. Portable oxygen concentrators that are battery powered offer the user even greater freedom and mobility.
Many of the newest portable oxygen concentrators have been deemed safe for air travel by the FAA and are allowed on commercial flights.
Choosing which type of home oxygen therapy method is best is not always a clear cut decision. The proper solution for one patient may not be suitable for another. Discuss the various methods available with your physician and other individuals who are receiving LTOT. Besides your personal comfort, what is highly important is that you use which ever method is chosen in the manner prescribed by your doctor so that you can experience the maximum health benefits of your oxygen therapy.