Many people with COPD and other respiratory diseases or illnesses have to use both oxygen concentrators and nebulizers in the management of their disease. However, if these medical devices have been prescribed to you for the first time, you might not understand the difference between the two. Learn the difference between an oxygen concentrator and a nebulizer, as well as how each device can help you maintain your respiratory health.
An oxygen concentrator is an oxygen delivery system that provides medical oxygen to patients by pulling in the surrounding air, purifying it and concentrating the oxygen in the air. The oxygen concentrator then delivers that concentrated, oxygen-rich air to the user.
Available in both home and portable versions, oxygen concentrators are offered in a variety of different sizes and weights, and can offer different types of oxygen dosing, including continuous flow or pulse dosing, depending on the kind of oxygen concentrator the patient has. Most portable oxygen concentrators use pulse dose technology, so that oxygen is only provided as needed with your breath, while home oxygen concentrators generally provide continuous flow oxygen. Patients will work with their doctors to determine which kind of oxygen concentrator is right for their oxygen therapy needs and their lives.
Oxygen concentrators are powered by plugging into an electrical outlet or by charged battery. As long as the oxygen concentrator has power, it can provide an endless supply of oxygen to the user without needing to be refilled in any way. Oxygen concentrators are made to supply oxygen to patients with breathing difficulties or low oxygen levels to help improve oxygen absorption and allow them to breathe better. For many patients, oxygen concentrators are a preferable alternative to compressed or liquid oxygen tanks and cylinders because they are much smaller, can provide an endless supply of oxygen to the patient as long as they have power and they do not need to be refilled or have replacement tanks delivered.
A nebulizer, on the other hand, is a small, portable medical device that uses compressed air, oxygen or ultrasonic power to break up medications into tiny droplets that can be easily inhaled through a mask or mouthpiece. Nebulizers are often used to deliver medication to patients with respiratory illnesses, lung disease or other breathing difficulties as they are able to specifically target the respiratory system and administer the medication directly to the lungs. Nebulizers are appropriate for use by both children and adults, and are available in different shapes and sizes depending on the patient.[1,2]
Nebulizers are generally used on a temporary basis to treat certain respiratory illnesses or diseases with the necessary medication. Though they may need to be used repeatedly, or for a certain period of time, they are usually not used with the same long-term regularity with which many people use oxygen therapy.
An oxygen concentrator has a very different function from a nebulizer, so they differ quite significantly. A nebulizer is used to deliver medication in the form of a mist directly to the lungs, while an oxygen concentrator is used to deliver medical oxygen to the lungs, which is pulled from the surrounding air. Nebulizers are not used to deliver oxygen to patients, and oxygen concentrators are not used to administer medication. Though the two can be used together quite successfully, they serve different purposes and cannot be used interchangeably. For example, while an oxygen therapy patient with COPD may need to use a nebulizer during a respiratory illness or exacerbation to get the medicine they need, the nebulizer is only used for the medication that treats the illness. Once the illness or exacerbation is resolved, that patient may no longer need to use the nebulizer, but they will still need to use their oxygen concentrator for their oxygen therapy treatments.
Since both nebulizers and oxygen concentrators can be commonly used medical devices for many patients with respiratory diseases or illnesses, some people wonder whether it is possible to find oxygen concentrators with a nebulizer function. While it is possible to find oxygen concentrators with a nebulizer function for patients who are on continuous oxygen (or, generally speaking, patients using a home oxygen concentrator), it is important to understand that, in this case, the oxygen concentrator is simply powering the nebulizer. In an oxygen concentrator with a nebulizer function, the nebulizer uses the oxygen flow from your oxygen concentrator to break up your medication and create the mist for you to inhale. Oxygen concentrators with a nebulizer function are generally quite large and they are rarely necessary for most patients. If you use an oxygen concentrator and you need to use a nebulizer to administer your medication, talk to your doctor about the best way to use both devices to treat your symptoms most effectively. In the majority of cases, a combination machine is not necessary.
Because an oxygen concentrator and a nebulizer each have a separate function, using both devices properly, and at the right times, can ultimately benefit your respiratory health. For many people with respiratory diseases like asthma or COPD, both oxygen therapy and nebulizer treatments are an important part of treating their disease. However, it is important to know how to use each device correctly in order to help treat your symptoms and keep your respiratory system as healthy as possible. While oxygen therapy can be essential to easing breathlessness and helping you get the oxygen you need, nebulizers can help treat inflammation, mucus and swelling in the airways, which can make it easier to get the oxygen you require.
Since both devices should only be used under your doctor’s care, talk to your doctor about how and when to use your oxygen concentrator in conjunction with your nebulizer to best support your respiratory health. Using both a nebulizer and an oxygen concentrator when necessary can truly help you breathe better. If you are interested in learning more about how a nebulizer can complement an oxygen concentrator, talk to your health care team, then contact Inogen for more information.