Skip to Accessibility Tools Skip to Content Skip to Footer
On Oxygen & On The Go

On Oxygen & On The Go – Part 1: The Burden of Portable Oxygen

Just because you’re on supplemental oxygen doesn’t give you any reason not to get out and about. To the contrary, supplemental oxygen should give you the freedom to get out and do your daily activities without huffing and puffing and getting out of breath. Do you remember what it was like before you went on supplemental oxygen going to the grocery store? How short of breath you got just walking from the handicapped parking spot to the front of the store? How sometimes you even stopped in the middle of the traffic lane because you couldn’t make it all the way without stopping to catch your breath? Well when you’re on supplemental oxygen all that’s gone.

I read a post the other day from a woman in one of the groups I belong to. She had been trying to get supplemental oxygen for months and she was finally approved. When she went out with her portable oxygen for the first time, she described how wonderful it was. Before the oxygen she was lucky if she made it to the store to pick up just one or two things before having to return home because she was so out of breath and drained. With her new portable oxygen she not only could go grocery shopping but she had gone to the bank and out to lunch also. She said she felt like she got her life back and would no longer be housebound due to shortness of breath. That is what supplementary oxygen is meant to do: get you moving and get you on the go.

Sadly, for many of you who are put on supplemental oxygen you view going out wearing your oxygen as an embarrassment or burden, or perhaps your anxiety at the thought of running out of oxygen keeps you housebound. I’m going to alleviate your fears & put to rest your excuses for not going out on oxygen. With the right mindset, preparations, & knowledge you can enjoy being out and about. If it is just for a shopping trip, lunch with family or friends, a day trip to the county fair, even a trip across country, the advances in supplemental oxygen these days gives you the freedom that, without supplemental oxygen, you would never have. I’m going to divide my article on this subject into sections starting with the inconvenience of going out with portable oxygen.

At one time or another we have all complained about dragging around those large gas E tank carts. I know they’re a pain in the a**, but, when your oxygen company won’t pay for anything else, you are stuck with them. They are a real pain especially when you have to go up and down stairs with them. For a long time I’d forgotten what it was like as I was on liquid oxygen. Anyone who is on liquid has no excuse at all for not getting out because carrying a liquid portable is a breeze. Most are lightweight and can be carried over the shoulder a few of them are heavier and come with a cart if you wish to use it. As with a portable concentrator, the cart is much lighter and less bulky than the E gas tank. I would advise anyone who possibly can to go on liquid, but with the new Medicare law, many of the companies that supply oxygen are getting away from liquid and putting people back on concentrators. And if you’re on a concentrator in your home you are most likely going to be on gas as a portable. I know these days there are portable concentrators, but, they’re very hard to get as a lot of insurance companies will not pay for them, and they don’t meet the oxygen requirements of many. So like me, they’re stuck with gas.

When I first moved to North Carolina, after a few times going up and down the steps on my porch with the gas tank behind me, I knew I had to make some arrangements to do something else. It wasn’t just that the tank was a pain in the a** but with my CHF by the time I got to the top of my stairs my heart rate was way too high. My solution to the problem was a smaller tank. The oxygen companies have what is known as an M6 gas tank. These tanks are 11″ high, weigh 3.2 lbs full and have a little shoulder carry bag. So the next time my delivery man came I had him bring me some M6 tanks along with my E tanks. After that I left the E-tank in my van & used the M6 tank to walk up & down the stairs. When I received my M6 tank, I also received an on-demand device. This particular device can be used for full flow oxygen or on-demand. I had on-demand devices before but had to stop using then years ago due to the fact I couldn’t breathe deep enough to make them work. Like I do with all new devices or meds. I test them in the house before going out. I wanted to know how long it would last on full flow and found out it would last a little over an hour at 2L. I also tried using the on-demand device and to my surprise it worked just fine and I found out the smaller tank lasts me 4 hours at 3L, no more balky tanks to pull around.

Here’s what I do when I go out now: I put my M6 tank on full flow walked down the stairs and get into my van. Once in my van I turn off my M6 and switch to my E-tank that I keep behind my driver’s seat. When I get to the restaurant or store I go back on my M6 full flow while I walk to a store or restaurant or where ever I’m going that day. When I get settled in I turn the M6 back to on-demand and I’m good for at least four hours. I’ll explain what I do for events that take longer or traveling in the last part of “On Oxygen and On the Go”. What this section does is shows you that where there’s a will there’s a way. If you’re tired of pulling around E-tanks and that’s the only reason you’re not going out, get a smaller tank. Like the D-tank it’s only 16 inches high and will last on full flow about 3 1/2 hours. If you can use an on-demand device the D-tank lasted 10 hours. I know some of you are in a much higher flow of oxygen. Even so you can still use a smaller tank to get you to and from your vehicle to avoid pulling the large tank down the steps. When I first got the M6 tank I didn’t know how long it lasted, if it lasted me 10 minutes to get me to my vehicle I would be happy.

For those of you who don’t think I know what it’s like to be on a higher flow, I was on 4L at one time. When you’re on a higher flow E tanks may be your only choice. However, if you can use an on-demand device the D tank will last you four and a half hours the M6 two and a half hours. Even at 6L a D tank on-demand will last three and a half hrs. When I couldn’t use an on-demand device and the E tank was the only one available to me, I still didn’t let it stop me from going out. I always felt the inconvenience and burden of the E tank was a small price to pay for the freedom to do my own shopping and have lunch with a friend. You don’t need to be on a light weight portable to get out and about. COPD robs us of enough, don’t let it rob you of your freedom of being on the go any longer. Don’t let pulling a four-foot cart and gas tank stop you from socializing and doing the things you still can. Get up, get out and get going. Breathe deep and easy.

Interested in more articles like this? Check out the rest of the series!
On Oxygen and On the Go – Part 2: Oxygen Embarrassment
On Oxygen and on the Go – Part 3: Oxygen and Anxiety
On Oxygen and On the Go – Part 4: Let’s Hit the Road
On Oxygen and on the Go – Part 5: Plane, Train, Bus, or Cruise

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The COPD.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

  • Mary Ultes author
    2 years ago

    You’re welcome millerjuzix. Glad to be of help & to have you in our community. We will always be here & try to help you whenever we can, God Bless. Breathe deep & easy,
    Mary

  • millerjuzix
    2 years ago

    Many thanks for your information. I feel truly blessed to have found this wonderful community. I have finally come to terms with Denial! And gratefully when I need a answer to a problem I can come back here. I have a netipot and just forgot about it. Thanks again to all who answered my question.

  • davidpatrick344
    2 years ago

    just a note i have used the grand daughters old pink backpack to carry the small tank in liquid is so much lighter and lasts a lot longer

  • davidpatrick344
    2 years ago

    i use the helios system the small tank is great and is only a couple of lbs but my supplier wont fix my old tank leaks and have to use their marathon way to heavy to carry

  • millerjuzix
    2 years ago

    Wonderful and informative article. I will read part 2 later. My question is: what can I do to stop my nose from running when I use my portable tank? It doesn’t happen when I am at home on my concentrator.

  • Mary Ultes author
    2 years ago

    Thanks for your help Leon & Lyn. Breathe deep & easy, Mary

  • Leon Lebowitz, BA, RRT moderator
    2 years ago

    Hi millerjuzix and thanks for your inquiry. I see that Mary has ‘handed off’ to me or one of the other moderators. As it turns out, our own moderator, Lyn, has responded to this very question from another community member. Here is her response in its entirety in quotes: “A runny nose can be so annoying – then add oxygen in your nose and becomes really exasperating! Take heart, there are a few things you can do about it. It will depend partly on the cause; for instance if it’s being aggravated by allergies.

    Since you’re understandably concerned about becoming reliant on nasal sprays, I’d recommend trying just saline spray. It will “wash” the allergens out of your nose and may help a great deal. Along those lines, you might want to try a Neti Pot. You can get them at almost any pharmacy. You mix up a salt water solution with warm water (not tap water) to go in it. Some people find they take a little getting used to – but they really do the job.

    Also, think about the position you sleep in…it may help to prop yourself up at night a little. You might find you’re not as congested in the morning and therefore don’t run as much when you sit up.

    As a last resort, since it sounds like you’d like to avoid further medications, you could ask your doctor about using Sudafed to relieve sinus problems. It might be something that you would only need to take occasionally or if you discover its allergy related, once the season is past you may be able to cut back.”

    I hope you get some relief!

    Regards,
    Lyn (moderator)

    If you’re interested further, you can find her answer at this link: https://copd.net/story/runny-nose/comment-page-1/#comments

    I do hope you find this to be somewhat helpful and we have Lyn to thank for the very thorough explanation.
    All the best,
    Leon (site moderator)

  • millerjuzix
    2 years ago

    I am a complete nerd as far as this new age. Please forgive no answer for all this time. Many thanks for very helpful tips. I finally have figured out what button to push to read messages, hope I do better. Love your website as doctors don’t tell us the truth. Bless you all my children! Millerjuzix

  • Mary Ultes author
    2 years ago

    Hi millerjuzix, I have never had anyone ask about a running nose while using a portable tank. Most complain about having a dry nose & mouth when on their portable oxygen. You are the first person that has asked me a question I have no idea what is causing the problem. I will try to research what might be the cause & get back to you. Maybe Leon Lebowitz, Ba, RRT or one of the other moderator will be able to give you an answer. Breathe deep & easy

  • sppisces
    2 years ago

    I just read this article. what is an on-demand tank? I have a piece of equipment that goes on top of my concentrator that fills two portable canisters. I am on 2liters. still I cannot plan a trip even for day as both filled canisters last only 6 hrs or so. so I hve not spent one day with my family yet since 2004 when dignosed with copd. no my oxygen co does have equipment I can rent for 50 a week to go on vacations or day trip, but they require a 2 week notice. my adult children are on a spur of the moment basis and won’t go with this.

  • Leon Lebowitz, BA, RRT moderator
    2 years ago

    Hi sppisces – sorry to hear that you haven’t been able to see your family since 2004 – that is a long time! Perhaps your adult children can be a little more understanding so that you can try to make plans in advance and be able to get together. Do you think it’s worth talking about with them?
    As for your question about ‘on demand’ oxygen. There are devices out there which sense a person’s inspiratory effort and only allow the oxygen to flow during the inspiratory phase of breathing. It shuts off during exhalation and then provides oxygen flow on the next breath. This is meant to help conserve the oxygen in the cylinder by not having it flow while a person is exhaling.
    Your oxygen supply company and/or physician should be aware of this and be able to determine if this would be helpful for you. If it is, your oxygen supply tank should last longer.
    Please check back with us and let us know how you’re doing.
    All the best,
    Leon (site moderator)

  • Jema
    3 years ago

    I have a boyfriend that is 55 yrs.old and was diagnosed with end stage COPD about 2 yrs ago.He has quit doing his oxygen when he over exerts himself and just uses his hand inhaler.Is the oxygen better for him in the long run?

  • Mary Ultes author
    3 years ago

    I am not giving you medical advice, but my not using his oxygen your boyfriend risk getting CHF. Low oxygen put an undo strain on his heart & can cause permanent damage to his heart which may lead to cardiac arrest. He should be using both & medical test show the use of oxygen in treating COPD leads to a better quality & longer life. Have your boyfriend check with his doctor. Not all stage 4 COPDers use/need supplemental oxygen, but it you boyfriends doctor tells him he need to use oxygen, tell him his life will be a lot easier if he uses the oxygen as prescribed. I will pray for him, Breathe deep & easy.

  • Leon Lebowitz, BA, RRT moderator
    3 years ago

    Hi MustangSallyrj and thanks for your inquiry. Although we cannot provide medical advice over the internet (for your own safety), your question does warrant a response. If your boyfriend has had the oxygen therapy and the inhaler prescribed for him, it’s not a matter of which is better. You may want to urge him to use the medications (both the oxygen and inhaler), as the doctor has prescribed. They will no doubt make him feel more comfortable, especially when he (over) exerts himself. You may want to have him check back with his prescribing physician to insure he (your boyfriend) understands.
    I hope this provides you will a little bit more insight for your concerns.
    All the best,
    Leon (site moderator)

  • Alicefay
    3 years ago

    I love this article, I love being outside and working in my garden. I felt cheated this article gave me ideas and helped with the I can do this attitude. I never thought about using the small i2 tanks to take in the garden with me . Now if I can just fugure out how not to trip over my own feet lol.
    Thanks again

  • grannycakes
    3 years ago

    Was put on oxygen about 2 weeks ago it isn’t helping at all any one else have this problem

  • Mary Ultes author
    3 years ago

    Hi, you may have something else going on that is causing you to still feel SOB. Your oxygen flow may be too high or low or you may have some weakling of your heart. Tell your Dr how you feel he may want to do some more test. Hopefully you just need a little more time for you oxygen to make you feel better. Breathe deep & easy, Mary

  • Leon Lebowitz, BA, RRT moderator
    3 years ago

    Hi 1ayort0 and thanks for posting your experience with oxygen. While I’m hopeful others in the community will respond to your inquiry, I think that you may want to return to your physician. In general, patients with COPD who use supplemental oxygen therapy start to feel better when they wear it. If this isn’t happening for you, the prescribing doctor needs to be made aware of this so you can be re-assessed and possibly have a modification made to your treatment plan. Please check back with us and let us know how you’re doing.
    All the best,
    Leon (site moderator)

  • mommachewy75
    3 years ago

    I,m rather a newby at this and find so much about it confusing. I have the large home concentrater, which I use the most, but it,s trying to leave home to run errands or visit family that scared me the most. One example I used the small, backpack unit for a doctor,s appointment, as my O2 providers told me it was good for 3 to 4 hrs. Not true! At the time I wasn,t aware of full flow versus conserve. I ran out of oxygen in the doctors office and had to be put on one of their tanks right there. I was scared to death and didn,t leave the house again for weeks after that. I felt I couldn,t trust the equipment any longer. After some research, I found out about conserve and full flow, checking my tanks before leaving the house and not to just take what my o2 providers tell me as true. I found I had bad regulators on two different tanks, so I called them and made them come out and fix it. I do have a couple of questions though. Number one, is an M6 the same as my small backpack unit? Is the E tank the larger tank I use on a rolling cart and what is a D tank? Sorry this is so long, but I,m sick of being fearful and staying at home because of it.

  • Alicefay
    3 years ago

    I got so tired of trying to figure which tank was going to suffice for my present activity that I felt uncomfortable going out . Embarrassed to be pulling a tank around afraid I’d run out with a small shoulder tank which doesn’t even last through dinnner and a movie. I finally purchased a portable concentrator has a nice little black bag an 8 hour battery weight about 8lbs . Has a car charger so it’s never running low and I can stay out as long as I like . On our boat or golfing, whatever, the convenience and security was well worth the money . Heck I make payments on other items what’s more important than oxygen for my body and freedom for my mental well being, absolutely nothing

  • Mary Ultes author
    3 years ago

    Sorry you are having so much trouble. You just need to stay on top of you oxygen providers & make sure they give you what you need. Once you get use to using the different type of tank you will get your confidence back. the Answer to your questions, the M6 tank is you small unit. The E is the larger one on the cart. a D tank is in between the other ones. At 2L it will last about 3.5hr on full flow & 10.5hr on a conserve. I never use them, you can’t carry them & if I’m going to pull a tank the E last longer, 5.7 on full flow & 17.2 on conserve. When I go out I use the E tank & I always have an extra tank in my van in case I’m out a long time. I can no longer use conserve, but I use the M6 tank on full to walk from my front door to my van, I leave my E tanks & cart in my van & when needed my grandson comes over & changes them for me. I keep my scooter in my van & my E tank fit between my legs. I can’t walk to far without my stat going into the low 70 so I ride my scooter a lot. Always keep & extra tank in your car. The providers will tell you not to do what I’m going to say, but I have been doing it for years & I have never had trouble. I lay the extra tank on the back seat or under it. I have left my tank in my van in 100 degree weather & 20 degree weather they don’t blow up or freeze. I’m not telling you to do that just saying what I have learned over 18 yrs of being on oxygen. Hope I helped you, Breathe deep & easy, Mary

  • jcgivan
    3 years ago

    I have a dog I walk 3-5 times a day (he won’t potty in our yard). I have a B tank for when I go out, on demand @ 2L. Some days it helps immensely, others, like in high humidity, it doesn’t do much. Should I enquire about a higher setting on these days?

  • Mary Ultes author
    3 years ago

    If you have a demand & full flow device & don’t walk you dog for more then an hour I would put it on full flow on those days. It you can’t I would ask about raising it to 2&1/2L or 3L. I’m on 2L 24/7 but when I go out & use on demand I always put it on 3L. Hope this helps, make sure to ask your Dr first. Breathe deep & easy, Mary

  • Bonnie
    4 years ago

    Hi, Valie,

    Your comment was some months ago, but maybe you’re still around. I’m going to try going to the gym with my portable oxygen. Is that what you’re doing? How is it working out?

  • LindaM
    4 years ago

    I am in the process of trying to figure out how to take walks with a walker and O2. I live in the country on a gravel road so pulling an E cart is impossible. It bounces all around. I am thinking I can cut a leg off a pair of jeans and make a D-tank holder from it. Using the waistband to attach it to the side of my walker. Gonna give it a try. Any other suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

    I am on 3L and have not heard of a full-flow/on-demand device. Where can I find them?

  • janiceiler
    3 years ago

    Linda have the tried using the waistband of the jean around your waist as if putting on your jeans, then make a holder out of the one leg, cut off every thing else off…just having the waist and leg holder left, wearing it around your waist you will not have to secure on the walker and it not be unstable.

  • valie
    4 years ago

    Hi Linda…
    just a thought. I am very severe COPD 10 years now @ age 64. Very slow breather and use from 2 to 5 lt w/a on demand device. I utilize a “C” size tank that lasts me from 1 – 2 hours depending on the level of exertion. I also use a back pack as I have very degenerating discs from all the steroids. This pulls my shoulders back and allows me to stand up straight. In the beginning I could not even go into a store as the stress of not breathing gave me so anxious. My pulmonary doctor said if I wanted any quality of life to move to sea level and go to pulmonary rehab. well, here I am a decade later and I can walk and talk at the same time. My blood work is much better and I’m even getting rid of some of the toxic gases in my blood. So your walking is a great idea. be safe and good luck. By the way I moved on from pulmonary rehab to a gym where I utilize the machines for strength and bone building…really helps w/ the breathing too!

  • Leon Lebowitz, BA, RRT moderator
    4 years ago

    Hi Linda and welcome. You seem to have a considerable challenge in and of itself with the gravel road. Your innovative approach is to be commended. However, it is not a good idea to secure an oxygen cylinder to the walker and then utilize it on a gravel road. It’s all too unstable. If at all possible, (and you drive or can be driven), you may want to do this on a smooth walking surface where an E-cart with wheels would be much preferred. If you have no other alternative and still plan on securing your D-size cylinder of oxygen to a home-made holder fashioned from the leg of a pair of jeans, I suggest you make certain the weight of it is balanced to your walker, especially if you’re securing it to the side of the walker. If the weight is not an issue for you to handle (while utilizing the walker), you may want to insure better balance by securing the cylinder to a central part of the walker (perhaps in the middle of the center on the inside!) I have concerns about your safety when trying to handle and walk with the assembled apparatus. Please be careful and make certain to test the assembled walker/tank in the safety of your home with someone present with you. If you are able to handle the weight of the cylinder, an alternate to consider is to secure the cylinder in a harness of some kind that you can then wear. Again, this is dependent on your capability to handle the entire cylinder/harness set-up safely. Remember too that most manufacturers frown on home-made devices based on safety and liability considerations. Our concern for you is based completely on safety when creating these solutions at home.

    You asked about ‘on demand’ systems/devices for full flow (oxygen). If you are on 3LPM of oxygen continuously, there is not a lot of difference (for oxygen conservation, oxygen saturation, or walking distance) between using continuous flow oxygen as compared to oxygen with an on demand system. There are devices available (through your durable medical equipment (DME) provider) should you still feel that’s what you prefer, although they have not been shown to demonstrate a significant advantage.
    Please let us hear of your progress. Good luck!
    Leon (site moderator)

  • Poll