What Is an Oxygen Concentrator?
The ambient air around us contains about 80% nitrogen and 20% oxygen. Individuals who can no longer get enough oxygen by just breathing, due to problems with the respiratory system such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), need oxygen therapy. This treatment could be done with the use of an oxygen concentrator to deliver purer oxygen to the lungs. If you have any health condition that causes your blood oxygen levels to drop too low, a doctor would most likely prescribe one of these units for you
Despite the fact that medical oxygen is essential for human existence, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration classifies it as a “controlled substance” because it carries various hazards if used wrongly. Some have referred to it as a “drug” even. Too much oxygen is just as lethal as less of it. In this write-up, we would explore some of the dangers of the use of oxygen concentrators (and oxygen therapy by extension), and the safety precautions or measures needed to guide your safe usage of the units. But first, it is important to make a quick mention of the types of oxygen concentrators.
Types of Oxygen Concentrators
- Home oxygen concentrator: They are designed for usage inside the home, with no option for mobility. They offer oxygen therapy to patients as a quiet, long-lasting, and dependable source of medical-grade oxygen in the privacy of their own homes. There are no batteries to charge or replace because they are powered by a wall socket.
- Portable oxygen concentrator: These are built to serve the same purpose of oxygen delivery, but are much lighter and smaller than the home oxygen concentrator, allowing for easy mobility. They also deliver oxygen flow via pulse dose and/or continuous flow oxygen.
Other delivery systems of supplemental oxygen apart from the oxygen concentrator are:
- Compressed oxygen gas – carried about in oxygen tanks
- Liquid oxygen – also moved in oxygen tanks
What are the likely Dangers involved with Using an Oxygen Concentrator?
Using an oxygen concentrator to provide supplemental oxygen is intended to be a safe and life-sustaining activity. However, like with any device (even the medical ones), it is critical to understand that these types of equipment could also be dangerous.
One common misinterpretation is that a portable oxygen concentrator is the same as compressed oxygen or oxygen tanks, which are also used to provide supplemental oxygen. Even when you’re utilizing an oxygen compression device, the risks aren’t the same. One should still be away of the downsides and the portable oxygen concentrator safety. Here are some things one may not like with home and portable oxygen concentrators:
- Dry mouth, nose, and throat: Whilst using an oxygen concentrator with liquid or gas oxygen, you may end up with an uncomfortable dry feeling throughout your upper respiratory tract. This might make your therapy feel worst, but manufacturers have advised that the humidifier component of the device be filled with distilled water to make the air moister.
- Nasal inflammation (Rhinitis): Frequent insertions and manipulations of a nasal cannula or face mask, in addition to constant air supply, could be perceived by the airway lining as a foreign substance, and in turn mount up an inflammatory process by producing more mucus in the nostrils.
- Skin irritation: This occurs relatively for the same reason as nasal inflammation, but this time over the skin.
- Hypercapnia (increased levels of carbon dioxide): Taking in too much oxygen during oxygen therapy could make the exhalation of carbon dioxide more difficult, thereby resulting in a build-up of this waste product in the bloodstream. Symptoms such as shortness of breath begin to ensue in a patient.
- Oxygen toxicity or Hyperoxia: This occurs when too much oxygen gas is being taken as opposed to the requirement. Hence one of the reasons why oxygen is only prescribed and not personally bought legally.
- Fire hazard: Oxygen is a highly flammable gas, especially when compressed into medical devices for oxygen users.
What Safety Precautions Should I Take?
KEEP A SAFE DISTANCE FROM OPEN FLAMES AND OTHER FLAMMABLE SUBSTANCES
As earlier highlighted, oxygen is highly flammable, and when exposed to any open flame could cause a fire and an explosion by extension. So you should always maintain at least two meters between you or your device and any source of a fire. This also includes gas stoves and electric cookers – meaning you shouldn’t cook whilst using your oxygen concentrator. It is important to note that aerosol products like perfumes, hair sprays, or some air fresheners even, are flammable and could be hazardous during home oxygen therapy.
KEEP YOUR OXYGEN CONCENTRATOR DRY
Home and portable oxygen concentrators are electronic devices, and like others are susceptible to water damage when exposed. Water splashing or sipping in through the vents could surely cause permanent damage to your device. However, there is a way out for portable oxygen concentrators. To avoid exposure to water and unexpected moisture, they could simply be used in a carrying case. Home-use units do not have this option. So, to avoid damage or possible electrocution, keep your concentrator dry.
AVOID SMOKING ANYWHERE AROUND YOUR CONCENTRATOR
Every doctor will advise you to quit smoking as soon as possible because inhaling smoke and chemicals weakens your immune system. Another major reason to stop smoking is that it can cause a fire, especially if you use supplemental oxygen therapy. According to the National Fire Protection Association, cigarette smoking caused around 18,000 residential fires between 2012 and 2016, accounting for nearly 5% of all fires. Smoking near your concentrator will not only increase your chances of starting a fire, but it may also cause it to burn more quickly.
USE APPROPRIATE OXYGEN TUBING
This is very important as it is the tube that connects your concentrator to your nose. Some tubes are too long and could cause tripping to you or anyone around you. So getting tidy tubing would be a viable option to prevent this, because it remains coiled at all times – no dragging or dangling on the floor.
Another thing is to always examine your tube for damages, kinks, or breaks that lead to leakages and oxygen delivery shortages. When observed, please change it immediately to avoid fire risk and device malfunction in the portable units that make use of pulse dose settings.
ALWAYS PLAN FOR THE FUTURE
Patients who make use of home and portable oxygen concentrators depend on electricity for their devices to function. What happens when the power goes out?
POC users should always have spare batteries for scenarios like this, so the battery life of their concentrators is sustained for a longer period of time. Users of the home units get power directly from wall inlets and no batteries. In the absence of an extra battery option, users could get a power generator to sustain their home concentrators during a power outage or storm.
Oxygen concentrators in whatever form – be it the home unit or portable unit are safe supplemental oxygen devices and are reliable. We applaud the ingenuity of manufacturers around the world working tirelessly to ensure that people in need of oxygen never have to suffer. But, these medical-grade devices do have some dangers. On the flip side, they are preventable. So, all you need to do is pay close attention to the tips highlighted in the user manual for the device you are using – it differs per unit. And importantly, be very careful.