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Portable Oxygen Concentrators Vs. Medical Oxygen Tanks, Which Is Best?

For people with lung capacity compromised by one of numerous diseases, the ability to take in near pure oxygen allows them a good quality of life. There are two main ways to deliver this oxygen; the traditional medical oxygen tank route or a portable oxygen concentrator. Both options have pros and cons, but which is the best option? Several factors need to be taken into account to determine the answer to this question.

Medical oxygen tanks are precisely what the name suggests, tanks filled with compressed oxygen. A tube from the canister feeds the gas to the user via a mask or nasal tube at a rate of ml per minute adjusted to the user’s specific need. Whereas oxygen concentrators effectively intake air and scrub impurities out of it to leave near pure oxygen. Oxygen is fed to the user the same as from a tank via a tube with a mask or nasal tube.

Portability

Oxygen tanks can come with a handled trolley for maneuverability; however, they are heavy, making them cumbersome to transport. Compressed air canisters are combustible, so the user needs to ensure they aren’t clattered about during transportation.

Portable oxygen concentrators, however, are purposely designed to be mobile (it’s in the name, after all). Coming in various sizes, they range in weight from 5lbs to 18lbs, all of which are easy to transport and carry. Many models have larger batteries that owners can purchase, doubling the time required between charging. And most run on mains power while charging the battery, allowing the user to plug-in throughout the day at various locations.

A small compact concentrator that young users can carry on their back is ideal for a chronically ill child who enjoys playing with their peers. They’re able to feel normal, despite having a medical condition that only a few years ago would have seen them having to sit alone on the sidelines.

Run Time

An oxygen tank holds a finite amount of compressed oxygen, meaning it will run out at regular intervals. The result of this is the user needs to carefully manage having them refilled or replaced as needed, so they aren’t left without.

Because oxygen concentrators are using the air around them, they provide a limitless supply of fresh, clean oxygen to the user. The only limit with these devices is the battery run time which depending on the settings used, can be between 1.5 and up to 10 hours. Spare batteries are an option for many models, extending the portable run time. Alternatively, running from a mains plug gives unlimited run time. 

Cost

For the upfront cost, oxygen tanks are the cheapest option; however, over time, they are most costly due to the high cost of refills. In the event of supply issues, prices could increase significantly, and users may even be unable to get refills if they require long-term oxygen.

Oxygen concentrators have a significant initial cost outlay, especially for larger and more technical models. But over time, the cost of running and maintaining the machines is low, with occasional filter replacements and the small price of electricity powering it incurs.

When considering which option to go for, consider the upfront cost and ongoing costs. How much will refilling oxygen tanks cost over two years compared to buying and running a concentrator over the same time cost?

Sound levels

The biggest pro of using oxygen tanks is that they run silently. The compression within the tank is enough to push the air through the breathing tube passively. The lack of running noise makes tanks unobtrusive during daily activities.

Oxygen concentrators create noise due to having moving parts and a motor. The sound levels vary depending on the model. Typically, smaller devices are the quietest, while large ones are louder, but this isn’t a definite rule, so it pays to check the product spec when choosing. The user’s personal tolerance for background noise and the environment where they intend to use a concentrator would be the deciding factors here.

Before purchasing a device, it’s essential to consult with your doctor to ensure that you choose one that is suitable for your specific needs. While on paper, one machine might look like the best the market has to offer, if it doesn’t support your personal prescribed needs, it isn’t the best for you. Oxygen concentrators provide the most flexibility, but oxygen tanks have their place, especially for patients only requiring short-term oxygen therapy.

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