What is the difference between continuous flow and pulse flow oxygen delivery?

Continuous flow (CF) oxygen therapy can be administered at home using either cylinder oxygen or by what is more commonly used today, by a continuous flow unit.

The units are generally designed for a stationary setting, although there is a small range of portable continuous flow units available on the market today.

The CF machine emits oxygen constantly irrespective of whether the user is inhaling or exhaling.

In contrast, the portable oxygen concentrators (POCs) only discharge oxygen on inhalation, thus reducing the total amount of oxygen required for the machine to produce to assist the user to meet their required oxygen levels.

The POC provides a ‘pulse’ of oxygen each time you inhale.

POCs have been downsized on the basis of providing oxygen ‘on demand’ eg on inhalation only.

As POCs are relatively light weight they are very easy to move about and several are approved for travel on Australian airlines. They provide a fantastic alternative oxygen source and allow a much more active and varied lifestyle for anyone needing oxygen therapy.

When considering your options for oxygen therapy take into account firstly your oxygen needs, your lifestyle and then how best to have both met.

You do need to sit down and ask advice from your respiratory specialist/doctor. If you are a low user of supplemental oxygen you will have more choice and may find all your oxygen needs can be provided by one POC.

Other individual’s may need to look at combining a continuous flow machine with a POC unit to allow them to get out more.

Continuous flowPulse flow oxygen