How Does an Oxygen Concentrator Work?

women with Oxygen concentrator

Has your doctor told you that you have a low level of oxygen concentration in your blood? If so, you may be wondering if there is anything you can do to make your situation better. Well, one great option for you is an oxygen concentrator. 

However, before we answer the question, “how does an oxygen concentrator work?” we need to start by covering the basics.

What Are the Main Components of an Oxygen Concentrator?

A standard oxygen concentrator has the following parts:

  • Series of air filters: To filter out all the impurities present in the air.
  • Air compressor: The primary purpose of the air compressor is to push air into the concentrator and forward it to the molecular sieve beds.
  • Molecular sieve beds: An oxygen concentrator has two molecular sieve beds that are designed to trap nitrogen.
  • Switch valve: The function of the switch valve is to switch the output of the compressor between the two molecular sieve beds.
  • Oxygen outlet: This refers to an opening that delivers purified oxygen to the patient.
  • Flowmeter: The flowmeter is used to set the flow of oxygen in liters per minute (LPM).

The Working Mechanism in Detail

  1. The working of an air concentrator can be summarized in four crucial steps:
  2. The concentrator pulls in air from the surrounding environment.
  3. It then compresses the air to facilitate removal of nitrogen from it.
  4. The next step involves the actual removal of nitrogen from the air to remain with purified oxygen.
  5. Adjusting the way the oxygen is delivered and delivering it to the patient.

What Is an Oxygen Concentrator?

In simple terms, an oxygen concentrator is a medical device designed to boost the blood-oxygen concentration of patients who suffer from low levels of oxygen concentration in their blood. The device can be powered by a battery or plugging it into an electrical outlet.

Portable oxygen concentrators usually come with an adapter making it possible to use them while driving.

Anyone suffering from hypoxemia (low blood oxygen level) can take advantage of an oxygen concentrator to improve their condition. Some of the common causes of hypoxemia include anemia, pneumonia, Asthma, emphysema, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

How Does an Oxygen Concentrator Work?

Air is comprised of nitrogen, oxygen, carbon dioxide, and other gases. 78% of air composition is nitrogen, 21% oxygen, while other gases take up the remaining 1%. This means that nitrogen and oxygen take up a combined 99% of the total air composition.
If nitrogen is removed from the air, the primary gas that remains is oxygen with a purity level of about 90-95%. An oxygen concentrator is designed to make use of this idea combined with the principle of Pressure Swing Adsorption to deliver up to 95% pure oxygen.

To help you understand the process better, we shall go into the details. First, the oxygen concentrator pulls in air from its surroundings. The air is put through several filters as it is brought through a compressor where it is highly compressed.

The compressor then transports the compressed air into a porous molecular sieve bed which absorbs nitrogen gas in large quantities. As the compressed air enters the first molecular sieve bed, nitrogen is removed, and the resultant oxygen concentrated air forced into the product tank.  

When the first sieve bed is filled with nitrogen, the flow switches to the second molecular sieve bed. The compressor keeps alternating between the two sieve beds to ensure that there is continuous flow of air out of the machine.

The concentrator continues to absorb and compress ambient air into the sieve bed until it is full of the unwanted nitrogen. At this point, a highly flexible switch valve flips over the output channel of the air from the patient’s mask into the second molecular sieve bed, transferring the compressing work to the second sieve bed.
Meanwhile, the first molecular sieve bed empties the collected nitrogen through back-flushing of oxygen from the other sieve bed. This process repeats when the second sieve bed fills. The swapping between the molecular sieve beds goes on to ensure that there is a constant supply of purified oxygen.
The process of switching between the sieve beds is referred to as Pressure Swing Adsorption (PSA). The flow of purified oxygen to the patient is usually controlled using a calibrated flowmeter. The patient can adjust the flow manually to their preferred liters per minute (LPM).
The oxygen concentrator also has a cooling system that prevents the device from overheating. The primary purpose of the cannula/mask is to help improve oxygen absorption.

Relax, You Can Now Breathe Easier

Now that you know how an oxygen concentrator works, feel free to talk to your doctor to see if it is the best option for your health needs. You may be surprised to learn that this simple medical device can save you a great deal by increasing your blood oxygen concentration.

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