For decades, receiving oxygen treatments for conditions such as COPD meant being tethered to bulky canisters of compressed oxygen, which limited mobility and independence. An atmosphere of pure oxygen could also create some safety issues as well. Fortunately, there are safer and more transportable alternatives available today. A portable oxygen concentrator extracts and concentrates pure oxygen from regular air. The user does not have to carry heavy tanks from place to place, and the concentrator produces therapeutic doses of purified oxygen.
Portable oxygen concentrators are also becoming more popular with travelers to high-altitude destinations, because they help reduce the symptoms of altitude sickness. Breathing pure oxygen has also become a popular option at day spas because of the natural energy boost it provides.
If you are in the market for a portable oxygen concentrator for yourself or a loved one, read our helpful shopping guide. Our top pick is the Vogvigo 1-6L/min Adjustable Oxygen Concentrator, a combination oxygen concentrator/air purifier that has a three-year warranty and a solid reputation for performance.
Considerations when choosing portable oxygen concentrators
The working definition of "portable" can vary widely between oxygen-concentrator users, but most would agree that full-size oxygen tanks mounted on a cart are not easily portable. There are some models that are extremely compact and lightweight, to the point where they can be attached to the user's belt or waist. Others can be placed in a small carrying bag or backpack with ease. Portable oxygen concentrators can weigh anywhere from a few pounds to over 30 pounds in the case of high-output medical-grade machines.
There are essentially two ways a portable oxygen concentrator delivers the nearly pure oxygen it extracts from the air. One method is called a pulse dose. The machine's sensors measure the user's breathing rate and automatically deliver a short burst of oxygen as needed. This is a more popular choice for those with higher-functioning lungs or those seeking an oxygen boost at higher altitudes.
The other delivery method is a continuous flow. The oxygen concentrator maintains a steady supply of oxygen to the user while it is being produced. This generally requires a heavier model with more power, and some oxygen is wasted along the way. Users with limited lung capacity or higher oxygen saturation requirements usually prefer a continuous-flow concentrator.
There are some complicated moving parts on a portable oxygen concentrator, along with hoses, nasal cannulas and masks that need to be kept in sanitary condition. Most portable oxygen concentrators also require filters, and some maintain a reservoir of sterile water for purification. When comparing concentrator models, you should consider how challenging it would be for the user to make repairs, clean the attachments and store the machine between uses.
Most oxygen concentrators do generate noise during operation because of the moving parts and the delivery system. Some create a tolerable "white noise," akin to radio static, in the background, Others are much noisier, especially the models designed for continuous flow. Asking for an in-store demonstration or consulting consumer reviews should help buyers determine if a particular model is quiet enough.
While standard-size portable oxygen concentrators typically use a dedicated AC power supply, portable models often operate on both AC and rechargeable batteries. There may be a removable AC wall plug for in-home use, and a battery pack for traveling. Because larger continuous-flow models can draw a significant amount of power, there should be a sensor that indicates when a recharge is needed. A DC car adapter is also a good option for travelers.
One noticeable difference between entry-level, mid-range and higher-end oxygen concentrators is the number of accessories included. Some units include a remote control for a more hands-free experience. An automatic shut-off timer is also a good feature. Additional masks and nasal cannulas make maintenance much easier. An air humidifier attachment also addresses other breathing issues, including allergies and asthma.
Portable oxygen concentrators feature advanced technology, so their retail price points can be considerable. A basic pulse dose model with minimal accessories starts at $300, while mid-range brands with either pulse dose or continuous flow cost between $350 and $500. Higher-end continuous-flow machines packed with features can cost as much as $1,000 or more.
Q. Can I combine my portable oxygen concentrator with a CPAP machine at night?
A. Some oxygen generators are indeed compatible with CPAP machines, but not all. You may have to invest in a special adapter in order to use both machines at the same time.
Q. Can my spouse and I use the same portable oxygen concentrator at the same time?
A. The answer depends on a number of factors. Some O2 concentrators are calibrated to produce enough oxygen for one user, while others do have the capacity to support two users. The difference between a pulse dose and continuous airflow is also a consideration.
Portable oxygen concentrators we recommend
Best of the best: Vogvigo's 1-6L/min Adjustable Oxygen Concentrator
Our take: The Vogvigo O2 concentrator has an impressive three-year warranty and a solid reputation among long-term users for reliable service.
What we like: Also functions as an air purifier. Generates white noise during operation. Compact design fits most nightstands. Can be controlled remotely.
What we dislike: Standard size O2 concentrator tubing may not be compatible with this portable unit. Cleaning could be challenging for some users.
Best bang for your buck: Vuiluyy's Home O2 Concentrator Generator
Our take: This affordably priced O2 concentrator is ideal for overnight use, since it also generates negative ions and purifies the air with minimal operating noise.
What we like: Includes an air humidifier and an infrared remote control. Offers continuous air flow, starting at 1 to 5 liters a minute. Attractive streamlined design.
What we dislike: Overheating is a common complaint among users. Not covered by a manufacturer's warranty.
Choice 3: Osito's Portable Oxygen Concentrator
Our take: This O2 concentrator is ideal for users who want to create a customized breathing-treatment experience.
What we like: Quiet operation, around 45 decibels. Easy to transport with handle on top. Multifunctional timer for continuous air flow or scheduled doses. Large display is easy to read. Includes a remote control.
What we dislike: Some report that it's not as quiet they expected it to be.
Michael Pollick is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.
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