With over one million adults in the US using supplemental oxygen to treat a range of health conditions and improve their quality of life, you might assume that using oxygen is as simple and straightforward as any other treatment. 

The truth is, it can be a real challenge. For people living with lung and breathing issues, whether it’s interstitial lung disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or other conditions, home oxygen therapy is often inconvenient, confusing,  and frustrating. 


Current supplemental oxygen delivery methods

The first hurdle facing supplemental oxygen users is determining the best delivery method for their supplemental oxygen needs. 

The main options they have to choose from include the following:


1) Oxygen-gas cylinders

This method involves using compressed gas that is stored in tanks, or cylinders, made of steel or aluminum, which are delivered to the user’s home every week or two weeks. They can deliver a lot of oxygen: from one to 15 liters per minute. One real downside is they are not very portable, because of their size and weight. 


2) Oxygen concentrators

Oxygen concentrators are another option. They work by taking the surrounding air and removing the nitrogen to produce concentrated oxygen which is dispensed through a nasal tube known as a cannula. 

Oxygen concentrators offer advantages, but they also come with their own set of problems. They can be small and portable, or as big as a nightstand - anchoring the patient to the machine. Portable units rely on batteries, which limits how long the oxygen concentrators function while on the go. Larger units that plug into household power will stop working during a power outage, which means oxygen users will have to keep some backup oxygen tanks on hand.  Also, oxygen concentrators often can’t meet the needs of users who require a high flow rate.


2) Liquid-oxygen devices

A third option for today’s supplemental oxygen users is liquid oxygen, which is made by cooling oxygen gas and turning it into liquid form. Just like with oxygen-gas cylinders, liquid oxygen is delivered to the user’s home in tanks on a weekly or biweekly basis. 

However, one drawback is this delivery method is not offered by all oxygen suppliers. Another drawback is that it tops out at dispensing about six liters per minute continuous flow. Users who need a higher flow rate have to hook together several tanks. 


“Often inconvenient, confusing, and frustrating.”


Once a delivery method is selected, there are more obstacles that can get in the way of supplemental oxygen users living active lives. Some issues that supplemental oxygen users have reported include:

  • Delivery delays that can last for several weeks
  • Surprise charges that they weren’t expecting
  • Having to travel long distances to pick up their oxygen and equipment
  • Receiving different products (that function differently) than the ones they were prescribed

One of the most common refrains among supplemental oxygen users is that even though this treatment is supposed to allow them to live normally, it seems that every step in the process—from filling their prescription to the weight and size of the tanks—is not designed for people with active lifestyles. 


“‘Portable’ systems are often anything but.”


How does this look in practical terms? 

To begin with, “portable” systems are often not as portable as people would like. They can be heavy, unwieldy, and near-impossible for patients with certain lung diseases to manage on their own. They may not contain enough oxygen to last for long periods of time, so patients have to carry multiple tanks or simply make the choice to not leave home. Trying to resolve these issues and others that arise can become cumbersome to the point that it defeats the whole purpose of having supplemental oxygen in the first place.


Solutions are needed

Supplemental oxygen users want to enjoy a good quality of life and have the freedom and flexibility to do what they want and go where they want. 

To find out how you can get involved in generating new and exciting solutions for supplemental oxygen users, register for the NHLBI Air You Wear challenge now!