a futuristic scene of a man using an app on his phone to monitor and adjust the levels on his oxygen tank.

Oxygen Technology

Gadgets and modifications of everything we use in the kitchen to sophisticated changes in top-notch computers are announced each day and celebrated in the media. Every day there seem to be new and improved technologies when it comes to our everyday lives. The list can go on and on: 100% electric cars, cellular phones with built-in cameras, and self-driving cars. To say nothing of the medical advances that are taking place by the minute – worldwide.

Medical breakthroughs

Half of the time I read about an advance, I have not a clue what is being discussed. I just know it’s being celebrated as a “breakthrough” and an awful lot of folks seem happy about it. I think it’s safe to say that those of us with COPD anxiously await advances in the treatment of the disease. Something that will let us breathe easier. Maybe a medicine or a machine that will prevent our lungs from filling up and necessitate coughing to clear them. There’s no telling when these improvements may be developed.

Oxygen and a brief history

Oxygen is a supplement many of us need and take advantage of all day long. I’ve kind of taken it for granted most of my life. I mean we breathe it all the time – every day of our lives, right? What’s different for us now is how much more we need it to reach our damaged lungs and our bodies in the best way possible.

Here is a brief history of oxygen and its supplemental use:1

  • 1772– Oxygen is “discovered” by a Swedish chemist.
  • 1885– On March 6th, the first recorded use of oxygen was administered for the treatment of pneumonia.
  • 1887– Oxygen devices, capable of storing oxygen to be used intermittently, become available for use.
  • 1917– Oxygen is used to treat gassed soldiers in World War I.
  • 1950– Oxygen begins to be prescribed to patients suffering from COPD with small, portable, high-pressure cylinders in the United Kingdom.
  • 1970s– Industrial gas suppliers begin to deliver large oxygen cylinders fitted with brass regulators to patients’ homes.
  • 1990s– As the 90’s approached, physicians begin to prescribe oxygen earlier for patients and their diseases.

Tanks and concentrators

Most of us who need it are able to get oxygen in two ways: oxygen tanks and oxygen concentrators. Tanks are available in various sizes to meet the needs of those who need it and, from what I’ve read and heard, seem to be the most common form of oxygen delivery.

Portable (over the shoulder) oxygen concentrators are small machines that convert oxygen in the air into pure breathable O2 for the user. The difference between the two seems to be the continuous flow of oxygen (tanks) vs. an as-needed, impulse release of oxygen (concentrators).

I have used tanks since I was diagnosed in 2011 – mostly of the “B” and “D” variety. The tank’s increasing capacity is identified by the progression of the letter attached to it. I have tried a variety of backpacks, shoulder bags, and carry-alls that have been designed for the exact purpose of carrying the tank. None are ever going to win a fashion design from Calvin Klein or Ralph Lauren but that’s fine.

A regulator upgrade is needed

The gripe I have lies solely with the tank’s “regulator” – the apparatus that controls the amount of oxygen flowing from the tank into the cannula. I’m hoping that one of those who are mechanically-minded might look at a regulator and think, “This must have been designed around the time of the Civil War. Let’s try and improve on it.”

No matter which way you carry it, you can never quite make out how much oxygen is left (it’s measure with a small dial on the regulator that always seems to be facing in the opposite direction from your point of view). Additionally, the regulator is never convenient for regulating more or less when you need it unless you stop, place the regulator/carrying bag down, unzip the bag, find which way the dial is facing, adjust the flow, zip up the bag, and hoist it up again to your carrying position.

I’m sure there’s got to be a way of having some kind of electronic receiver in your pocket or purse that can give you all the information you need to increase/decrease flow or even an app for the phone that will take care of all this as well. And while we’re on it, (and again – I flunked science more than any other subject at school) there should be some sort of durable plastic that can replace the current tanks which weigh a ton or two apiece.


By providing your email address, you are agreeing to our privacy policy.

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.

Join the conversation

Please read our rules before commenting.