How does an oxygen concentrator work?

Oxygen is part of the list of essential medicines of the World Health Organization and, however, is not widely distributed in developing countries that bear the greatest mortality burden of newborns, children and seriously ill adults. The reasons for poor access to oxygen are usually the cost and lack of infrastructure to install and maintain a reliable gas supply. Even when there is an oxygen supply in healthcare facilities, patients’ access to it can be restricted due to lack of accessories, inadequate power supply or shortage of qualified personnel.

Fortunately, it has been categorically proven that the use of oxygen concentrators represents a viable and cost-effective strategy for the administration of oxygen therapy, especially when oxygen cylinders and piped medical gas systems are inappropriate or non-existent. Good quality concentrators can provide oxygen in a sustainable and reliable way to many patients. These devices work by extracting air from the environment to expel clean concentrated oxygen continuously. They can work up to 5 years or more, with a minimum of service and maintenance. There is strong research data on the use and efficacy of oxygen concentrators to increase access to life-saving oxygen therapy and improve the overall quality of healthcare in low-income settings.

What is an oxygen concentrator?

An oxygen concentrator is a medical instrument that provides oxygen therapy to patients with respiratory diseases. The concentrators deliver more pure oxygen than air. They have become significantly more popular than compressed oxygen tanks. Unlike tanks, concentrators are not at risk of leaks and cause explosions or fires. For this reason, they are much safer to use in emergencies and in military situations, where the probability of accidents is higher. Oxygen concentrators are also used in some industrial applications, although their main use is for medical treatment.

How do these devices work?

The air is composed of approximately 21% oxygen and 78% nitrogen, with the rest consisting of a mixture of other gases. The oxygen concentrators suck the air and filter the nitrogen, leaving pure oxygen available for treatment. They contain two zeolite towers that are filled with aluminum silicate. The room air is compressed and pumped into these towers, where the aluminum silicate absorbs nitrogen. This is then expelled from the zeolite towers, and the pure oxygen is pumped into a storage tank where it is kept until the patient needs it. There are static and mobile oxygen concentrators, and both work with conventional current sources and batteries. They usually cost around 800 dollars, although many individuals and doctors lease the devices of the manufacturers

What is the so-called pulse-dose technology?

Pulse-dose technology is a new development in oxygen therapy that has been incorporated into most new concentrators. Traditionally, concentrators have provided a continuous supply of oxygen to a patient regardless of whether he inhaled or exhaled. A pulse-dose system sends oxygen in fixed increments that correspond to the inhalation component of a patient’s breathing cycle. By doing so, this technology prevents wasted oxygen and increases the efficiency of a concentrator. Pulse-dose technology is particularly important in portable oxygen concentrators, which are smaller and have limited storage.

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