I Have a Portable Oxygen Concentrator - Now What?
By Lily - Registered Respiratory Therapist
A portable oxygen concentrator lasts around four to seven years, depending on how regularly it has been maintained and how often it is used. Newer portable oxygen concentrators will last longer than older models simply because the technology is newer.
Mind Your Battery
The battery is usually the first part of your portable oxygen concentrator that needs to be replaced. Batteries usually last 300 charges, after which their lifespan shortens.
You can extend the life of your battery by charging it at least once every 3 months and making sure you do not store the battery at less than 50% charge. Please also refrain from draining your battery completely. If you have multiple batteries, label them so you can rotate them evenly.
It is always a good idea to have spare batteries on hand when you leave the house. You will thank yourself if your short errand turns into an extended trip because you are prepared. This is especially important if you plan on flying with your portable concentrator.
Airlines require you to have enough battery to run your concentrator for at least 150% of your flight duration. This means that if you are planning a four hour flight, then you will need enough battery to last you six hours on a higher oxygen setting than what you normally use.
Keep the Machine Clean
Regularly cleaning your portable oxygen concentrator will extend the life of your unit. You can use a soft cloth and mild soap to wipe the outer casing of your concentrator, keeping it free from dust and debris.
Please make sure to unplug your concentrator before cleaning and use a soft towel to dry the concentrator before use.
Maintain the Filters
The filters on your concentrator prevent dust and debris from entering your machine and should be washed at least once a week. They can be removed from your unit and washed with mild soapy water. You can use a soft bristle brush to scrub your filter and rinse and dry it with a soft towel.
It is a good idea to let the filter sit out to air dry to prevent any moisture from seeping into your machine when you reinsert the filters.
Please note that not all portable oxygen concentrators have filters, and they will look different depending on make and model. The Simply Go and Simply Go Mini do not have filters while the Sequal Eclipse uses a foam filter.
Oxygen Cannula Maintenance
Nasal cannulas should be cleaned once a week and replaced every two to three months. If you use your cannulas daily, you should replace them every two months.
They can be cleaned the same way you clean everything else - with warm water and mild soap. Submerge the cannula in a basin of warm soapy water and swish around.
Then rinse out the cannula in a solution of 1 part vinegar and 10 parts water to kill bacteria. To get rid of the vinegar smell, rinse cannula thoroughly in warm water and hang it up to dry.
If you need to use oxygen daily, it is a good idea to have extra cannulas so you aren’t stuck without one while waiting for your current one to dry.
If you are sick, please clean your cannula more often than once a week and replace it with a new one after your symptoms are gone. If your cannula is visibly soiled, it is time for cleaning.
We at Respshop carry nasal cannulas, and you may check them out here.
General Tips for Comfort
Prolonged oxygen use without humidity can lead to nasal dryness, bleeding, and itchiness. If you are having problems with nasal discomfort, please use a water based lubricant such as aloe vera gel.
There are also nasal gels that you can purchase from the pharmacy and apply to the inside of your nasal passages. This will help decrease friction and soreness caused by the nasal prongs sitting in your nose.
Many people also use saline nasal sprays to keep their nasal passages lubricated. Please avoid using nasal sprays that are advertised to alleviate nasal congestion. They may cause dependency with prolonged use and make you more prone to nasal congestion.
Saline water by itself is enough to keep your nasal passages lubricated and prevent the buildup of thick mucus that will plug up your oxygen cannula.
Many people also experience discomfort with the pressure of the tubing on their cheeks and around their ears. There are soft nasal cannulas specifically designed to reduce ear pain.
You can also try putting gauze/padded fabric underneath the tubing where it sits around your ears or wrap padding around the tubing so they rest comfortably on your cheeks.
There are also many different types of foam ear cushions on the market that you may want to explore.
Transporting your Portable Oxygen Concentrator
When people think of portable oxygen concentrators, they envision something small enough to fit in a backpack or even a large purse. The reality is that concentrator size varies depending on output capability.
Concentrators that are small enough to fit in a backpack weigh around 5-6 lbs and deliver only pulse dose oxygen. Most of these smaller portable oxygen concentrators come with a carry case and shoulder strap, like the DeVilBliss iGO2.
Concentrators that can deliver continuous oxygen flow in addition to pulse dose (eg. SimplyGo) will be larger and usually comes with a carry cart. While it may feel cumbersome lugging the cart around, you may find it is easier on your shoulders and back to use the carry cart than to carry it over your shoulder.
While you may be tempted to choose a smaller, more lightweight concentrator, your oxygen needs should be your top priority. If you have a progressive lung condition (e.g. COPD, pulmonary fibrosis, lung cancer etc.) that will lead to increased oxygen demand down the road, you may need to sacrifice size and weight for higher oxygen output.
Flying with Your Portable Oxygen Concentrator
If your concentrator is approved by the FAA for air travel, you will still need to contact your airline because many require advance notice. Most airlines require 48-72 hrs advance notice, and international airlines may require up to 2 weeks advance notice.
Please also bear in mind that different countries may have regulations different from the FAA regarding in-flight oxygen use, so always contact your airline. Most airlines will require a doctor’s prescription, and some may even have their own medical form that needs to be completed and signed by a physician.
When contacting your airline, make sure to ask exactly what they require on the prescription. They may ask your doctor to specify when you need oxygen (i.e. is it for the entire duration of the flight or only during takeoff and landing?) and how much oxygen you need (flow rate or pulse dose).
Increased altitude lowers air pressure, which also lowers the amount of oxygen in the air. Because of this, your oxygen needs will be higher than while you are on the ground, and you should speak with your doctor to find the best setting for you.
It’s also a good idea to bring a pulse oximeter on your flight so you can monitor your oxygen levels as the altitude changes.
Please try to see your doctor a few weeks and even months before your travel date in case you require testing or additional paperwork signed. This will also give you sufficient time to prepare extra batteries and adapters for international travel.
As mentioned before, airlines require you to have enough battery to last for 150% of the duration of your flight. It is a good idea to have even more battery life than 150% to account for layovers and delays at the airport.
You should also have your power cord handy because you can save precious battery life by plugging your concentrator in while you’re at the airport. This will also let you charge your battery.
Airlines do not allow you to plug in your concentrator in-flight, so please make sure your batteries are fully charged before you board. Lithium batteries cannot be checked - all your batteries will need to be in your carry-on.
The TSA limits each passenger to two lithium batteries (each less than or equal to 160 watt hours) or one lithium battery (less than or equal to 300 watt hours max).
You should not have any issues with your concentrator batteries exceeding the watt hours limit, but it is still a good idea to check your battery specifications before you travel.
Your portable oxygen concentrator can be stowed under the seat in front of you for easy access. You may want to have spare cannulas in your carry-on, along with your user manual, in case your machine needs troubleshooting.
If you are traveling with someone, consider familiarizing them with your concentrator. Anything that helps you feel more comfortable will help you manage your anxiety and your oxygen needs.
This is where having a pulse oximeter comes in handy because it is a reminder that you are doing well.
If you have a layover, you may want to plug in your concentrator in the terminal to charge your battery. It is a good idea to make sure all your paperwork is in order for your connecting flight at this point, especially if you are switching airlines.
You should be all set to fly with your portable oxygen concentrator now.