Oxygen concentrator (Image: PIB)
The ferocity of the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in India has caught everyone off-guard. The sharp rise in the number of active cases over the past month has greatly stressed the country’s health infrastructure and led to a massive spike in the demand for oxygen concentrators.
So, let's delve deeper and understand what oxygen concentrators really are. When are they required and how should they be used?
The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare gives a quick lowdown on the device that is of prime importance at the moment.
The Health Ministry explained, a steady supply of oxygen in the body is crucial for survival, which gets affected when a person contracts COVID-19. The viral respiratory disease that affects the functioning of our lungs, often causes oxygen level in the body to drop to dangerous levels.
In such situation, one needs to undergo oxygen therapy, which is a medical treatment that enhances our oxygen levels to clinically acceptable levels.
Now, oxygen level is measured by oxygen saturation (SpO2) -- the amount of oxygen-carrying haemoglobin in the blood. A healthy individual with normal lungs has SpO2 of 95–100 percent.
As per clinical guidance for management of adult COVID-19 patients issued by the Health Ministry, an oxygen concentration less than or equal to 93 percent on room air requires hospital admission, while that below 90 percent is classified as a severe disease, requiring admission in ICU.
How do oxygen concentrators work?
Atmospheric air has roughly 78 percent nitrogen and 21 percent oxygen. Oxygen concentrators take in the ambient air and increase the oxygen concentration, by filtering out the nitrogen.
These concentrators work the same way in supplying oxygen needed by the body such as oxygen tanks or cylinders, with the use of a cannula, oxygen masks, or nasal tubes. The difference is that, while the cylinders need to be refilled, oxygen concentrators can work 24x7.
Who can use them and when?
Explaining the appropriate usage of concentrators, Sanyogita Naik, Professor and Head of Department Anaesthesia, BJ Medical College, Pune, said: “Oxygen concentrators can be used only in moderate cases of COVID-19 when the patient experiences a drop in oxygen levels, where the oxygen requirement is a maximum of five litres per minute.”
Oxygen concentrators are also useful for patients experiencing post-COVID complications which necessitate oxygen therapy.
Can we use them on our own?
The answer is a strict no.
Dr Chaitanya H Balakrishnan, COVID-19 Coordinator, St John’s Medical College Hospital, Bangalore, said: “Patients with moderate pneumonia induced by COVID-19 - with oxygen saturation less than 94 - can benefit from supplemental oxygen given through oxygen concentrator, but only till they get hospital admission. However, patients using it themselves without suitable medical advice can be harmful.”
Dr Chaitanya further explained: “So, till you get a bed, oxygen concentrator can be beneficial, but definitely not without guidance from chest physician or internal medicine specialist. It also depends on patients' pre-existing lung conditions.”
Notably, depending upon the capacity, oxygen concentrators cost upwards of Rs 30,000.
O2 concentrators market in India
India has seen a big spurt in the manufacture and sale of oxygen concentrators. Besides multi-national brands, several Indian start-ups, funded under the CAWACH (Centre for Augmenting War with COVID-19 Health Crisis) programme of Department of Science & Technology, have developed efficient and cost-effective oxygen concentrators.
Given their usefulness during the second wave of the pandemic, one lakh oxygen concentrators are being procured through the PM CARES fund.Follow our coverage of the coronavirus crisis here