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What Is Medical Grade Oxygen and Why Do I Need a Prescription (Rx)?

Oxygen can be purchased for a number of different purposes—including welding, scuba diving, high altitude climbing and recreation—and in a variety of different delivery methods, so people may not realize that medical oxygen is considered a pharmaceutical. However, medical grade oxygen is considered a drug and is, therefore, highly regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).[1] So, what does that mean for patients who need medical oxygen?

Medical Grade Oxygen and Other Types of Oxygen

Oxygen can be used for many reasons, from boosting athletic performance, to scuba diving, to welding and more. While these pursuits may use oxygen, the oxygen used in these situations is different from the medical grade oxygen used by patients during oxygen therapy. Medical oxygen is highly regulated by the FDA to ensure that the medical grade oxygen patients receive is safe and pure, meeting the standards for medical use. This is important because gas that does not meet these standards, called adulterated or misbranded by the FDA, is dangerous to patients who need supplemental oxygen.[2] Moreover, oxygen made for other uses—like in oxygen cans, oxygen bars or scuba tanks—is not intended for ongoing regular use and, in most cases, would be cost prohibitive to use this way. Medical grade oxygen is designed and regulated specifically to be used on a regular basis by patients demonstrating a medical need.  

Why Is an Oxygen Prescription Necessary for Medical Oxygen?Prescription

Because medical grade oxygen is considered a drug by the FDA, an oxygen prescription is required to obtain medical oxygen for patient use. There are several reasons for this. First, requiring a prescription means that there are two safety measures in place—both the regulation of the medical oxygen itself, and the regulatory process of providing prescriptions—before any patient receives medical grade oxygen. This helps to ensure that the oxygen you receive is safe and pure, and created only for medical use. Plus, an oxygen prescription ensures that you know exactly how much oxygen to use, and when to use it, so that you are using your medical oxygen correctly for your unique needs. This is important because your health depends on using oxygen therapy correctly, and using more oxygen than your body needs can be hazardous to your health. Moreover, oxygen supports combustion and can create a fire risk when used incorrectly. A prescription helps ensure that you use your medical oxygen only as directed. 

In short, an oxygen prescription helps to protect you. Requiring a prescription ensures that you receive regulated medical grade oxygen, and helps to provide you with precise directions for how and when to use your oxygen to safely receive therapeutic benefits.

Getting an Oxygen Prescription and Medical Oxygen

In order to get an oxygen prescription, you will undergo a number of different tests to determine your blood oxygen levels and oxygen saturation. The results of these tests, along with a discussion of your symptoms, will help your doctor understand how well your lungs are functioning and whether or not your tissues are absorbing oxygen correctly. Once your doctor determines your oxygen levels, and the reasons for your low oxygen, they will be able to prescribe an oxygen dosage that is right for you. Your doctor will also consider your overall health, your lifestyle and your needs to complete your activities of daily living when writing up your oxygen prescription. If you have particular requests or needs, including the portability of your oxygen delivery device or the ability to travel, discuss these with your doctor during the oxygen prescription appointment so that they can include these needs in your prescription. A preference for an oxygen concentrator over an oxygen tank, for example, is an important issue to discuss with your health care team. 

Ensuring Your Oxygen Prescription Meets Your Needs

In order to get the most accurate oxygen prescription for your needs, be as honest and transparent with your health care team as possible. If you want to be able to continue to take your daily walk while using medical oxygen, tell your doctor. They will help customize your oxygen prescription to match your life. 

For many people, portability is essential to maintaining quality of life while on oxygen therapy. Portable oxygen concentrators, like those from Inogen, can make going about your life on oxygen easy. A portable oxygen concentrator can free you from lugging around heavy tanks and carefully managing your day based on minutes left in your oxygen tank. If you are interested in oxygen therapy that moves easily with you and can provide an endless supply of oxygen as long as it has power, tell your doctor about your interest in Inogen’s Portable Oxygen Concentrators. Each of our Inogen One models is designed to improve the life of patients on medical oxygen. Discover more by contacting us today. 


[1] “Food and Drug Administration Compliance Program Guidance Manual – Compressed Medical Gases.” Food and Drug Administration, 15 Mar. 2015.

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