When a person with COPD is told that his or her lung condition has deteriorated to the point that supplemental oxygen is needed, feelings of despair and fears of being trapped at home begin to creep in. After all, if you need oxygen to breathe, then how will you ever leave home without that big, heavy tank sitting in your living room?
The good news is there are many options for leaving the home with oxygen these days. It’s called portable oxygen and it comes in a number of forms and styles. While there are portable oxygen concentrators, their cost and weight will make them a poor choice for most COPDers. So, this post will focus on only portable compressed oxygen and liquid oxygen.
Portable Compressed Oxygen
Small compressed oxygen tanks or bottles have been around for decades. The heavy metal tanks/bottles are usually long and narrow in shape and are generally carried on a wheeled stroller type apparatus, or possibly in a backpack. It is pressurized and can only be released when the valve is opened.
One of its advantages of this type of portable oxygen is that it can be used until the tank runs dry, no matter how long that takes, or how many outings. So this type of portable oxygen offers the most flexibility in terms of time away and distance away from home. For long journeys or absences, multiple tanks can be brought along.
On the downside, the tanks can be heavy, and could represent some risk, if not handled safely and carefully. It also takes some effort to switch tanks and you cannot be attached to the oxygen during the switch procedure.
Portable Liquid Oxygen
This is the newer form of portable oxygen. You’ve probably seen people with these small plastic tanks, carrying them in shoulder bags. They’re often not much larger than a canteen or medium-sized purse. They’re generally lighter than the compressed oxygen bottles. Liquid oxygen works on demand, making a slight hissing noise, so it’s important to keep breathing through the nose, or you won’t get much oxygen into your lungs.
Liquid oxygen containers are lighter and easier to manage, but a disadvantage is that the unused oxygen does evaporate over time. So, they usually last no more than 8 hours (depending on your flow rate and the size of the tank). This means that outings must be shorter in duration and you can’t get too far from home, unless you bring along a reservoir from which you can refill your portable tank.
However, portable liquid containers are easy to refill and can be used during the refill process. Both types of oxygen need to be used in well-ventilated areas, if possible, because there will be some emission of oxygen into the air around you.
Being on supplemental oxygen does not mean you cannot live an active, mobile lifestyle, if that is what you desire. Talk to your oxygen supplier about your portable oxygen options. With a little planning, there is no reason why the need for supplemental oxygen should stand in your way
Kathi is an experienced consumer health education writer, with a prior career in nursing that spanned more than 30 years — much of it in the field of home health care. Over the past 15 years, she’s been an avid contributor for a number of consumer health websites, specializing in asthma, allergy, and COPD. She writes not only as a healthcare professional, but also as a lifelong sufferer of severe allergies and mild asthma, and as a caregiver for her mother with COPD.