Patients who have been told by their doctor that they may need to have oxygen therapy may have heard the terms pulse and continuous flow used and may be wondering which of these options is going to be best for them. It is important to have a good understanding of what each of the phrases means and how they work with the home oxygen concentrators you will be using. It can be quite confusing for those who have never been on oxygen before, but it can be broken down so it is more easily understood.

First, you will want to understand liters per minute and flow rates. On your prescription, you will see “liters per minute” and this may cause some to believe that the only way to get the required amount of oxygen is to use a continuous flow system. The LPM simply refers to the amount of oxygen delivery that you have been prescribed per minute.

Most of the home oxygen concentrators will have exact LPM settings that you can use, as will many of the continuous flow concentrators. With a pulse flow oxygen concentrator, the settings will be between one and eight liters per minute. Many of the portable oxygen concentrators will have these same settings. The liters per minute does not necessarily mean that it will relate to the settings on all types of oxygen concentrators. They can vary from one make and model to another. Therefore, when you are buying a concentrator, make sure it can deliver the proper amount of oxygen to you, whether it is a pulse dose oxygen concentrator or a continuous flow oxygen concentrator.

What Are Pulse Concentrators?

With a pulse flow concentrator you are going to bring oxygen into your air passages through a nasal canula with each breath that you take. If your breathing rate were to increase, then the concentrator would be able to adapt and provide you with another breath, or pulse, of oxygen with each of your breaths. The delivery of the oxygen is controlled through your own breathing.

These types of units tend to be efficient because you are only using them during the actual breaths that you take. There is no oxygen wasted, since it will not be flowing during the periods between each of the breath. This not only ensures that you are not wasting oxygen, but it also ensures that the battery life on the unit will be better. An additional benefit of this type of flow unit is that the size tends to be smaller when compared with a continuous flow concentrator. This makes the pulse flow portable.

One of the other differences between these types of concentrators is that the pulse portable oxygen concentrators are not delivering oxygen in exact liters per minute, and there is no standardization between the models on the market.

It is important that you work with your healthcare professional to make sure you are choosing the right machine for your needs. These types of machines can work well for many people, but some patients will find that they are not capable of providing them with the amount of oxygen that they need. For example, if someone needs to use oxygen overnight, they would likely be better served with a continuous flow oxygen concentrator rather than a pulse flow oxygen concentrator.

They do tend to work very well for those who are still quite active. They are easier to use when people are out of the house, and they can be used for those who can still get in some exercise. The flow will match your needs since it provides oxygen with each breath. For those who still get out and are busy, this can be a nice solution to allow you to maintain that lifestyle as much as possible.

There are many differences from one machine to another, not only in terms of oxygen delivery but also with the comfort level. You may need to experiment with more than one option before you find the one that works well for you. Some of the pulsed flow oxygen concentrators that you may want to consider include the SimplyGo Mini, AirSep Focus, and Inova Labs Activox 4L.

What Are Continuous Flow Concentrators?

The second option is the continuous flow concentrators, which will provide the patients with a steady amount of oxygen that has, as the name suggests, a continuous flow rate. Once the machine is on, the oxygen is always flowing. This means that it is not an oxygen conserver like the pulse units, but this type of flow is often needed for patients who have certain conditions or who have specific oxygen requirements. It is also ideal for those who need to have oxygen delivered overnight.

One of the other benefits of this type of concentrator is the ability to provide more exact flow rates of oxygen. This allows you to have the LPM set to your requirements. These are popular for home oxygen concentrators, but they do not typically work as well when it comes to portability. Those who have lower activity levels may find that this will be a better solution for them than the pulse flow concentrators that are available.

Some potential options for these concentrators include Respironics SimplyFlo, Inogen At Home, and Invacare Perfecto 2V.

What If You Need Both?

Of course, you might be wondering what you should do if you would like both of these options. Perhaps you need oxygen overnight, but you like the portability and features that some of the pulse flow machines have. If that’s the case, then you might want to look at some of the available machines that are able to provide both single and pulse flow options. They can provide users with quite a bit of flexibility, and there are several units on the market, such as the Equinox and the SimplyGo that could work nicely.

Alternatively, if you do not want to have a single machine, you could always have a home oxygen concentrator that you use while you are at home that provides a continuous flow, and a portable pulse flow concentrator for when you are out running errands. You just need to be sure it will provide you with the appropriate oxygen levels that you need.

What’s Right for Your Needs?

Keep in mind that everyone’s needs will differ. When you are searching for a device, you will want to consider whether you need to have constant oxygen levels during the night or during the daytime. Consider your lifestyle, and the amount of oxygen that you require. Consider where you will need to use the oxygen, and the battery life that you are going to need on a daily basis. You and your doctor should take the time to consider your specific needs. There is no “one size fits all” option when it comes to oxygen concentrators.

Patients who require supplemental oxygen, and who are not certain as to which type of concentrator they should choose, even though they might know the LPM that has been prescribed to them, should speak with their healthcare professional. They can help you to choose a device that will deliver the oxygen properly.