The Three Types of Oxygen Therapy for COPD

by Kathi MacNaughton Health Professional

Once supplemental oxygen is prescribed for you or your loved one, you'll need to decide which of the 3 types of oxygen systems is right for you. There are advantages and disadvanatages to each of them.

Compressed Oxygen Gas Cylinders or Reservoirs

The traditional way to dispense oxygen was the large steel or newer aluminum tanks.These tanks or cylinders hold the oxygen in compressed gas form and have a flow meter and regulator that controls or cuts-off the flow rate.

NOTE: Compressed oxygen tanks are under extreme pressure, so they must be kept upright and handled carefully.

Pros: This form of oxygen is fairly inexpensive and almost always covered by insurance. It's also easy to use and the large tanks can be used to fill small, portable tanks that enable short trips outside the home.

Cons: Large compressed oxygen tanks are heavy and not made for easy mobility. The need for frequent tank refills is another disadvantage. Safety issues, such as explosion and fire hazards can be worrisome as well. Plus, there is the sheer space that the tanks themselves take up.

Liquid Oxygen

Oxygen can be converted from gas to a liquid at extremely cold temperatures. The liquid takes up less space, so the tanks are smaller. Portable tanks can be filled from a liquid oxygen cylinder as well.

Pros: The tank takes up less space The portables used with liquid oxygen are lighter and easier to carry.

Cons: This is an expensive form of supplemental oxygen. Also, liquid oxygen cannot be stored for more than a week or two because it will evaporate. The tanks must be refilled often, requiring the scheduling of deliveries. In addition, the process of using the equipment has been described by some users as confusing and hard to remember.

Oxygen Concentrators

An oxygen concentrator is an electrical medical device that extracts air from the room air and then delivers it to the patient. There is a built-in flow meter attached to the concentrator to allow the prescribed flow rate to be set.

Pros: It's inexpensive and usually takes up less space than the other types of oxygen, typically being about the size of an end table. It's more convenient, in that it doesn't require refilling. It's great for people on high flow rates or continuous oxygen.

Cons: Concentrators can't be used to fill small portable tanks and they aren't portable themselves. They're dependent on electrical power, which can be problematic during a power outage. They may also cause your electric bill to go up. Some concentrators give off heat and are noisy too.

You'll need to weigh the advantages and disadvantages for yourself to decide which type of supplemental oxygen is right for you or your loved one.

Kathi  MacNaughton
Meet Our Writer
Kathi MacNaughton

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.