The Best Portable Oxygen Concentrators of 2019

The Best Portable Oxygen Concentrators of 2019

Editor's Note: Oxygen concentrators require a physician's prescription to purchase. As we are not medical experts, our recommendations are based on objective features that don't affect the specifics of your oxygen therapy, such as battery life, weight and level of noise. Ultimately, the best oxygen concentrator for you depends on what your doctor prescribes and what your insurance covers.

A recent study by the American Medical Association found that over 30 million Americans have some form of chronic lung disease, and between 800,000 and 1 million of those people require some form of oxygen therapy.

As we age, lung function naturally decreases. In fact, after age 35, it’s normal to have some diminished breathing ability – your diaphragm gets weaker; lung tissue loses its elasticity; and the bones of your ribcage can change, restricting the space in which your lungs can expand.

This is further complicated by lung conditions like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD. For elderly patients especially, respiratory infections like pneumonia or influenza can be very serious.

Given that age and disease are the main reasons for oxygen therapy, it’s reasonable to seriously consider your options before choosing a device for you or your loved one.

Best for mobility

Caire Medical Airsep Focus

 Under two pounds 
 No continuous flow option 

Airsep offers true mobility with the Focus. The unit weighs just under 2 pounds and is one of the smallest portable concentrators on the market. In fact, it’s compact and light enough to  wear clipped to your belt like a large cell phone, though it also comes with a shoulder strap and a carrying handle.

But, like other compact oxygen concentrators, the Focus has some size-related drawbacks. Its two lithium-ion batteries only run for three hours each per charge, depending on the oxygen flow rate you’re using. However, the battery takes about four hours to fully charge. You can buy an external power cartridge to gain 3.5 more hours of battery life at a trade-off of about 8 ounces of added weight. But it also works when plugged into a wall outlet, so you can save battery life when you don’t need to be mobile.

The Focus lacks an option for continuous flow. Rather, it delivers oxygen in pulsed doses – small injections of oxygen released when the unit detects that you are taking a breath. If your condition requires a constant flow of oxygen, a pulsed-dose machine isn’t for you. Of course, with all portable oxygen concentrators, this requires a prescription, so you have to take your physician’s recommendations into consideration.

Read the full review of Caire Medical Airsep Focus.

Best Battery Life

Inova Labs

 Long battery life 
 No handle 

If battery life is important to you, then the Acivox 4L is your best option with a battery life of over 10.25 hours on one charge, according to the manufacturer (when using setting 1). Even at the highest setting, the internal battery lasts four hours, which is more than some portable oxygen concentrators do on the lightest setting. In addition, you can extend the battery life by up to 5 hours with an external battery. And the charge time for these batteries is between two and four hours.

The Acivox 4L has three options for transporting the 5 pound concentrator: a carrying case with a handle, a messenger-bag style shoulder strap and a backpack rig. Since the concentrator’s casing doesn’t come with a handle, you have to rely on one of the external options. In addition, while it’s comparatively light, it’s quite large and bulky.

The streamlined interface includes purity sensors, battery life notifications and a personalized “auto mode” that helps ensure maximum absorption by monitoring changes in your activity level and adjusting accordingly. The unit’s sound output registers at a comfortable 44 dB on average.

Always make sure to consult with a physician about the best oxygen concentrator for your condition. These devices are not a one-size-fits-all medical device, and we are not medical experts.

Read the full review of Inova Labs Acivox 4L.

Best for In-Home

Nidek

 Lots of features 
 Big and bulky for a portable device 

The Nuvo Lite is the biggest portable concentrator on our list. It weighs in at 32 pounds and stands 23-inches tall, requiring you to pull it along on wheels like a suitcase. However, size does have some advantages. In the Nuvo Lite’s case, the upsides include a high-quality molecular sieve to filter out nitrogen, recessed casters that improve durability and a moisture-reducing wick.  You can also lock the flow valve so you don’t accidentally change the output rate. It’s also packed with features you don’t find in smaller concentrators, which is why it’s the best portable concentrator for in-home use.

While not scoring high for mobility, the unit does have wheels and a carrying handle. The Nuvo Lite may be better suited for moving between rooms in your home rather than on a long vacation, especially considering its not approved for travel on airplanes.  

The Nuvo Lite has a high-efficiency compressor capable of reaching full purity in less than three minutes. And it does this while making very little noise and using little power.

Read the full review of Nidek Nuvo Lite.

Best Tech Support

O2 Concepts

Excellent customer support
 Weighs almost 17 pounds 

With a straightforward interface, the OxLife Independence is a good choice if you’re not tech savvy. The concentrator’s Dynamic Network Analysis (DNA) feature connects with a team of engineers who monitor the unit and can troubleshoot it with you in real time at no extra cost. You can even track it down via GPS if you lose it. Knowing that tech support is just a phone call away can be comforting if you’re traveling and your concentrator suddenly stops working.

The Independence has better-than-average battery life, with up to nearly six hours of running time per battery, compared with three for most of the models we tested. You can opt for a different model with an additional battery for a longer battery life. Another added bonus is the 1.5 hour charge time, which is far faster than the battery on most portable oxygen concentrators.

The unit has both pulsed and continuous-flow settings and a maximum output of 3 LPM. It’s on the heavier side, weighing it at nearly 17 pounds, but comes with large wheels that make it easier to maneuver as you move about.

O2 Concepts’ unit is also on the list of FAA-approved concentrators.

Read the full review of O2 Concepts Oxlife Independence.

Most User-Friendly

Precision Medical

 User friendly 
 Short battery life 

The PM4150 is one of the most user-friendly concentrators on the market. One knob controls the interface and lets you adjust the flow rate. An LED screen displays the battery status and alerts you to any malfunctions. In addition, the controlled minute volume (CMV) feature makes it so you get a consistently measured amount of oxygen for each breath. It even adjusts to your breathing rate. This ensures you get the right amount of oxygen for each breath. Of course, as with all portable oxygen concentrators, it requires a prescription, so make sure you consult with a physician about the levels of oxygen you require and the best device for achieving that.  

As the name implies, this is a pulsed-dose concentrator that will deliver doses of oxygen with every breath the unit detects. Carrying options for the 7-pound unit are a shoulder sling and a backpack. The battery offers up to three hours of runtime between charges on the highest setting and five hours on the lowest setting. Both are below average. However, it does work when plugged into an outlet, and you can purchase external batteries to extend the life.

The FAA has also approved the PM4150 for use during air travel.

Read the full review of Precision Medical PM4150 EasyPulse

Why trust us on oxygen concentrators 

As mentioned in our introduction, you need a prescription from a doctor to purchase a portable oxygen concentrator and we are not medical professionals. As such, you should not take our recommendations unless the concentrator is capable of meeting the prescription criteria laid out by your doctor.

We cannot stress this enough – listen to your doctor. Since oxygen therapy is a prescription, you need to follow the directions as set out by your doctor. We need oxygen to live, but too much can damage your lungs. Your doctor has to prescribe how often you need oxygen therapy, whether you need it at night, the proper flow rate and how long you need it each day. This is why these devices require a prescription.

How we evaluated oxygen concentrator

Most of the critical characteristics you should look for in a concentrator, such as the oxygen percentage and output, depend entirely on your physician's prescription. In other words, a concentrator that has a 5-liter-per-minute output at 96-percent oxygen purity isn't necessarily the best one for your needs. In fact, it could be the worst device for you. It all depends on your physical needs, as determined by your doctor. 

What’s the difference between an oxygen tanks and a concentrator? 

When most people think of oxygen therapy, they picture the metal tanks that must be either carried or carted around. These tanks are like smaller versions of a scuba tank, and they are filled with compressed oxygen that you breathe through a cannula – the tube that delivers the oxygen to the nose. Concentrators also use a cannula, but they are smaller and pull oxygen from the atmosphere.

Since concentrators don't require routine refilling of a tank, many people view them as the better option. Indeed, concentrators are usually smaller and more portable. Also, the cost of refilling an oxygen tank adds up over time, which means concentrators are better for long-term therapy.

On the other hand, concentrators cost more upfront than oxygen tanks. And while the cost is often covered by insurance, it may not be if your prescription is for short-term therapy. In addition, oxygen tanks don't require power to operate, so they last much longer and are more reliable in places where you may not have access to a power outlet to recharge a battery, such as on a road trip. Either way, you should use the oxygen therapy prescribed by your physician.

Oxygen flow options 

Regardless of whether you end up with a tank or a concentrator, your doctor determines whether you need a continuous or pulse flow setup. As the name states, continuous flow is always pumping oxygen to you, no matter your breathing rate.

Alternatively, pulse flow only provides oxygen when you inhale. While this method conserves oxygen, it is generally not recommended for those who need to use oxygen while sleeping, as some people may not breathe hard enough to trigger the necessary pulse. Many concentrators use one method or the other, but some offer both.

Your doctor will also determine your oxygen flow rate. Most users only need rates of about 2 to 4 liters per minute (LPM) of oxygen. Those that require more will likely need to use a face mask.

Travelling with oxygen 

If you fly with your oxygen, you need a device that is FAA approved because it must be able to work under pressurized conditions. Additionally, it's important to note that most airlines require oxygen users to have enough battery life (for concentrators) or air capacity (for tanks) to last one and a half to two times the length of the flight. 

What is a portable oxygen concentrator used for? 

A portable oxygen concentrator is a mobile version of the technology that supplies filtered oxygen drawn in from the surrounding air. Other gases, including nitrogen, are filtered out, and pure oxygen flows directly to the user.

These mobile concentrators do the same thing as home models but run on a lithium-ion battery. Battery life varies by model, but carrying multiple batteries extends how long you can use the concentrator when you are out and about.

What are the different types of oxygen concentrators? 

Modern oxygen concentrators can be divided into two types: mobile and home. The mobile versions are portable, come in a variety of sizes and have varying battery length. You can buy accessories like extra batteries and carrying packs to suit the needs of your or your loved one’s lifestyle.

Home oxygen concentrators are larger and typically used by people who are more homebound. It’s worth noting there’s a big price difference between home and portable oxygen concentrators, with portables being more expensive overall. The cost of miniaturizing the technology as well as the price of batteries makes portable versions more expensive.

Are oxygen concentrators covered by Medicare? 

This is a tricky question. Medicare defines an oxygen concentrator, or any medical device used for respiratory therapy, as an equipment rental. A medical equipment company rents you an oxygen concentrator and then bills Medicare a fee every month.

Where things get complicated is that oxygen equipment is limited to a 36-month rental period. Due to reimbursement guidelines, suppliers who bill Medicare are cautious about what types of equipment they rent out. 

If you qualify for coverage, Medicare is required to cover you for 60 months total. However, as mentioned, oxygen equipment is limited to only 36 months of coverage. That means once your 36 months are up, the amount Medicare pays out declines sharply. For the remaining 24 months, Medicare only covers a servicing fee (one report suggests it’s around $21 a month) for the equipment you already have. 

This also means that if you’re already into your 36 months of coverage and want to switch devices, you will likely be rejected because the cost of providing you with new equipment will be more than the medical device company can make by billing Medicare.

To make things even more complicated, Medicare has something called national competitive bidding. This means the companies with the best bids receive contracts to provide medical devices to an assigned region of the country. This has driven down reimbursements even more. Further, Medicare only provides a flat rate payment for oxygen equipment, no matter what device you use.

How long do oxygen concentrators last? 

Unfortunately, portable oxygen concentrators do not last very long. When oxygen purity drops below 80 percent, it’s advised you get a replacement unit, and that can happen between 800 and 1,500 hours. The concentrator uses zeolite crystals to filter out nitrogen, and these minerals typically last for 10 years. However, with constant use, the mechanical parts experience natural wear and tear. 

Do oxygen concentrators use liquid oxygen?  

No, oxygen concentrators pull oxygen from the open air and then process and filter it. 

How much do oxygen concentrators cost? 

Prices vary, with home concentrators typically costing less than mobile ones. Some portable oxygen concentrators cost as much as $4,000, and home models start in the $800 range. A general rule of thumb is the more you spend, the better the concentrator. 

Do I need to see a doctor before getting an oxygen concentrator? 

Yes, you need to see a doctor and be prescribed a device for respiratory therapy before you can buy one. 

Can I buy a used portable oxygen concentrator? 

Yes, buying pre-owned or refurbished oxygen concentrators is an option. Several retailers offer refurbished or pre-owned units.

Will insurance cover a portable oxygen concentrator? 

Yes, private insurers cover medical devices for oxygen therapy, including portable oxygen concentrators.