Oxygen concentrators provide supplemental oxygen for many people in the United States and elsewhere around the world. Concentrators are the most popular stationary system. However, I much prefer ambulatory systems because they allow patients to increase their activities of daily living. But, up to the present, concentrators have not been of sufficiently light weight to allow ambulation.
Now a 9-3/4 lb. battery-powered concentrator is available. It runs off of 12-volt batteries or electrical current. When it is using external power supply, the batteries are being constantly charged. This device uses a pulse delivery system through ordinary nasal cannulae. It appears to be ideal for traveling in cars, buses and trains. It is likely that this concentrator will also be approved for use in airplanes because it does not create oxygen, it only concentrates it. It draws only a small amount of power and does not operate at high pressures.
This same device may be useful in aircraft emergencies where decompression takes place. The cabin attendants, who need to be able to help their passengers, particularly in emergencies, might well be able to use the portable concentrator. What about the passengers? The newest jumbo jets are being equipped with oxygen supply via a huge concentrator, a system to serve all passengers when cabin pressure is lost. Thus if there is an emergency over the ocean, the plane may well be able to continue flying at a high enough altitude, i.e., 18-20K feet, where it still functions efficiently, and thus conserves enough fuel to reach the final destinations. The pilots, of course, would have to have their own pure oxygen supply, which is well within engineering capabilities of existing equipment.
Thus, new technologies that are continuing to be developed for patients with COPD and related disorders, who have chronic stable oxygen deficits, may also be useful for passengers and cabin attendants on high.
I will be in touch next month.
Thomas L. Petty, M.D.
Professor of Medicine, UCHSC
Co-Chairman, National Lung Health Education Program