A portable oxygen concentrator (POC) is a machine that continually takes oxygen from the air and concentrates it inside a small canister. Patients can then breathe in the oxygen through a tube attached to the machine. Typically, an oxygen concentrator is used by someone who has a long-term respiratory disorder that causes low oxygen levels in the blood. One common example is chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), where lung damage causes breathlessness and fatigue. The use of a portable oxygen concentrator can allow patients to live fuller lives, enabling them to take part in activities outside the home.
Patients who use POCs may have been advised by their doctors that they need long-term oxygen therapy. This commonly involves taking in extra oxygen for a minimum of 15 hours each day. Suitable medical equipment for delivering this treatment may include home oxygen concentrators, which are powered by electricity. Most often, the patient receives the oxygen supply from a portable oxygen concentrator through a nasal tube, but some home models may be used with an oxygen mask. A portable oxygen concentrator may become necessary to allow patients to leave the house, and it could also be used by those who need extra oxygen during exertion.
Portable oxygen concentrators vary in size and weight, with the smallest around the size of a binocular case and the larger ones similar to a grocery bag. Many can be carried in a case with a shoulder strap and they may weigh as little as a couple of bags of sugar. As size varies, so does the amount of oxygen delivered per minute. Patients may be limited in their choice according to the severity of their disease and whether it is likely to progress, increasing their oxygen requirements. Sometimes, in order to conserve the supply, a device may be attached to the POC which delivers a pulse of oxygen only during inhalation.
Due to its mobile nature, a portable oxygen concentrator runs on batteries. There are usually adapters supplied with the machine, giving the option to use it in other countries and to charge it inside a car. The length of time between battery charges will vary between models, but is usually around four hours or more. Batteries can sometimes be carried in a specially designed belt. It is often possible to take a portable oxygen concentrator on an airplane but patients should check in good time that their machine is approved by the airline.