Say that you’re standing in the middle of a car dealership lot staring at the waves of blue, red, black, white cars, some big, some small, some convertible, some long, some short. And say that you’ve never driven a car before in your life and you’ve got someone forcing you to pick one right now. Isn’t that kind of how it feels to make certain decisions about oxygen?
Well, picking out the best oxygen system doesn’t have to feel the same way. Choosing an oxygen system that works best for you has to be a decision you and your doctor make. And, like a car, it’s something you get used to, accommodate to your needs, and learn to adapt till you become comfortable with it. Just like my Facebook friend Audra says to me about using oxygen, “It becomes part of you, and life is so much better with it than without it.”
I’ve always refer to this great website by Dr. Pete Wilson when it comes to “Oxygen 101.” One of the things many COPDers talk about is about choosing between a compressed and liquid system. And with the help of Drs. Robert Sandhaus from National Jewish Health in Denver, and Dr. Byron Thomashow from Columbia University in New York, we put a little article together about the two oxygen systems.
A compressed system is essentially an aluminum cylinder that comes in different sizes; the smallest is about one pound and the largest (which is usually wheeled in a cart) is about eight pounds. Some folks have a couple containers of different sizes so they can use them for easy travel.
A liquid oxygen system works differently. Because it’s in a liquid rather than gaseous format, it takes up only a tenth (1/10) of the space compressed oxygen takes. The canisters are refilled from reservoirs you keep at home; these reservoirs are cylinders about 29-40 inches tall, and filled, they weigh 100-160 pounds. You can sometimes even connect your cannula tubing to the reservoir directly for continuous flow throughout the night.
According to Pete Wilson’s website, liquid oxygen may be safer than compressed because it has less pressure; there are still dangers with the possibility of “burning” skin if you touch the ports while refilling, since liquid oxygen is amazingly cold.
Bob Campbell from the Alpha-1 Foundation that reminded me that neither liquid nor compressed oxygen are allowed aboard commercial air flights. You can access more information about flying with oxygen at the Airline Oxygen Council website.
Here’s a chart with some of the differences between the two systems outlined:
|Pressure||~2,000 psi||Pressure: ~21 psi|
|Sizes||Sizes: Many, from small to quite large||Sizes: generally two (small hold 0.7 liters/6lbs; larger hold 1+liters/6-9lbs) plus a large reservoir|
|Require power source||No||No|
|Advantages||- Readily available- Cheap(er)
- Wide range of sizes
- No refilling by patient required
|- Light and portable- Long lasting
- Can be refilled by patient
|Disadvantages||- Heavy and clumsy- Need to carry many cylinders with you for long outings
- Potential dangers if dropped
|- Need a large reservoir- Filling requires dexterity and some strength
- Potential dangers of burningly cold liquid oxygen
Audra finishes her messages to me by saying, “People who have just been prescribed O2 have to try to keep their heads up and realize that in the end it will keep them ambulatory and feeling better for the most part . . . they just have to give it a chance.” So true.
What are your thoughts about liquid and compresses systems?