Thomas L. Petty, M.D.

Professor of Medicine, 
University of Colorado

Chairman, National Lung Health Education Program (NLHEP)

Portable Oxygen can be 
a Drag in the Snow

March 2001
Second Wind
Lomita, California

  Just before Christmas on a snowy Monday morning, I saw a woman dragging her E-cylinder on wheels across a snowy street. It was icy, and she slipped a bit as she wrestled with her "portable" oxygen system. Later the same day, I saw a patient from Aspen, Colorado, situated at an altitude of 8,500 feet, who came with her daughter, also pulling an E-cylinder on wheels. This new patient expressed frustration over how inconvenient this oxygen system is, particularly in the snowy resort community where she lives. Her E-cylinder had caused her to stop going out to dinner and from attending holiday parties.

  These two scenarios encountered in a single day reawakened my concern and frustration over how oxygen is still commonly supplied. I have my doubts that the prescribing physician in either case knew the burdens of pulling an E-cylinder compared to the convenience of lightweight systems. Today, both liquid portable systems and very small high-pressure cylinders can provide truly ambulatory oxygen, which is far more convenient and physiologically appropriate for the patient with advanced respiratory insufficiency.

  The ability to improve exercise tolerance using an ambulatory system has the advantage of increasing fitness through improved oxygen delivery under exercise conditions. Expanding social opportunities is also important in improving the quality of life. A great challenge remains to inform prescribing physicians (most of whom are primary care providers) and patients alike, of the significant advantages of an ambulatory oxygen system. Previous Oxygen Consensus Conferences have defined an ambulatory system as one carried by the patient which weighs less than ten pounds and provides at least four hours of oxygen supply. The newer lightweight systems using conserving devices exceed these parameters. They weigh between 3.75 and 5.5 pounds. They provide up to eight hours of oxygen using the lightest weight liquid system (HELIOS).

  Now that we are in the new millennium, it is time to keep pace with advancing technology and knowledge about the benefits of a real ambulatory oxygen system.

  I will be in touch next month.

  Your friend,

  Thomas Petty, MD

Published: Jan 31 2002