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How to Find the Best Portable Oxygen Tanks for Traveling


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For people suffering from cardiopulmonary challenges, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), portable oxygen concentrators make traveling a cinch. Gone are the days of lugging around a heavy, bulky oxygen canister; these days portable oxygen concentrators are mainstream, small enough to fit in a shoulder bag, and guaranteed to never run out of oxygen. 

What is a portable oxygen concentrator?

A portable oxygen concentrator, also called a portable oxygen tank, is a medical device used to deliver oxygen to patients who have medical conditions necessitating oxygen therapy. There are a number of conditions, including asthma, sleep apnea, and cystic fibrosis, that require oxygen therapy, which increases oxygen levels in the blood. Oxygen concentrators replace traditional, unwieldy oxygen tanks that inhibit the movement of patients who depend on oxygen from supplemental sources.

With traditional oxygen tanks, patients had to wait for empty tanks to be refilled, putting their health at risk. Over time, the costs of refilling oxygen canisters (if it wasn’t covered by insurance) added up. One major benefit of the new oxygen concentrators is that they do not require refilling; they’re designed to run 24 hours a day to supply continuous oxygen as long as they have a power source. They also save users money in the long run because they can pull in oxygen from the air. 

Rechargeable and battery-powered portable oxygen tanks are also available in various sizes, making them easy to use in homes or on the go. They’re also very quiet compared to earlier models. 

How do portable oxygen concentrators work?

An oxygen concentrator takes in air from the surrounding environment and sends it through a small compressor inside the system. From there, the air is pressurized and forced through a series of chemical filters or sieve beds. The material in the chemical filters extracts nitrogen from the air as it passes through, concentrating the purified oxygen. A portion of the concentrated oxygen is delivered to the patient via a mask or nasal cannula (nasal tube). The remaining concentrated oxygen is returned to the sieve bed, clearing the accumulated nitrogen and making the system ready for the next cycle. The process consistently produces oxygen with a concentration of over 95 percent. The resulting purified oxygen is the same quality as that delivered via traditional oxygen canisters. 

Portable oxygen concentrators are electrically-operated devices that are powered by batteries. Nearly all of them include AC and DC power supplies, allowing patients to both use their systems and recharge the batteries simultaneously. Anywhere a power source is located, including a car, a patient can use or recharge a machine. It is impossible to recharge traditional oxygen and liquid oxygen tanks on the go. 

Do oxygen concentrators require a prescription?

A prescription is required for the purchase or rental of any oxygen therapy system. All patients have different needs so determining the main use for your oxygen delivery will help you choose the right system. Whether you need it during the night or day, for travel, for work, or for recreational activities plays a significant role the decision-making process. You should discuss all the factors important to you with your doctor, so you both can decide on the system that meets your health and lifestyle needs. 

Medicare will pay for the purchase or rental of oxygen therapy systems when they are prescribed by a doctor. The qualifying conditions can be found on Medicare’s site.

How long do portable oxygen tanks last?

The battery life per charge on a portable oxygen concentrator is dependent on the type and model of the system and the flow rate. Typically, one can expect two to 12 hours of use per fully charged battery. Most models are designed for an easy battery exchange while on the go. The battery life varies from manufacturer to manufacturer, with the top brands offering longer charges, increased efficiency, and compact size. 

Most portable oxygen concentrators are very small in size and can be charged with AC or DC power sources, so they do not use a lot of electricity. The average user will see very little increase in electric bills with the use of a portable system. The expected utility cost is less than $100 per year.

Do oxygen concentrators need water or maintenance?

Most oxygen concentrators do not need water during use. Only systems with humidifiers will require water. Many models have humidifier kits available for purchase, which are typically needed in drier climates. If you feel a humidifier is required, consult your physician. 

If operated in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions, portable oxygen concentrators require very little maintenance. Outside of caring for the machine, weekly cleaning of the filter and daily changing of water will suffice in systems containing a humidifier. 

However, portable oxygen concentrators run the same risk as oxygen canisters. Due to the presence of purified, flammable oxygen, care must be used and at no time should the system be used near open flames. Safety precautions must be upheld when using any supplemental oxygen. Oxygen therapy systems are prescriptions and should be treated that way. Only use as directed by your doctor.

What are the best portable oxygen tanks for travel?

There are many factors to consider when purchasing a portable oxygen concentrator for travel.

1. Battery life

The battery life per charge varies significantly for each model. All will allow for extended use with additional batteries, but that incurs additional cost and increases the number of items that need to be carried. The smaller concentrators typically have shorter battery lives, but the larger options may be too bulky for a patient to feel comfortable. For most trips and shorter flights, a four-hour battery life, plus the addition of a spare, should be sufficient.

2. Mobility

Oxygen concentrators are the only oxygen therapy devices approved by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for air travel. Traditional canisters, full or empty, are prohibited for use on all commercial aircraft. The only way patients requiring oxygen therapy can fly domestically or internationally is with an FAA-approved oxygen concentrator. If airline travel is in your plans, be sure to verify that your airline allows the brand and model you intend to fly with. Only purchase a concentrator that is FAA-approved and is suitable for air travel. Most models will be affected by altitude and have specifications regarding performance, so this needs to be taken into consideration. 

3. Size

If your portable oxygen concentrator purchased is too heavy or bulky to easily move around, the additional accessories required for travel, such as the batteries, will become even more of a hindrance. The system should be small enough to fit into a convenient and fashionable shoulder bag

Now that you’re up to speed on portable oxygen tanks, it’s time to find the right one.

Keep scrolling to shop Woman’s World‘s picks for the best portable oxygen tanks so you or your loved one can breathe easy. 

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