What Is Medical Grade Oxygen and Why Do I Need an RX?

Many people may think that getting oxygen is easy since it’s in the air we breathe. Our ambient air (i.e., the natural air around us) comprises of only 20% oxygen; the rest is a mixture of nitrogen, argon, carbon dioxide and other gases. To get pure oxygen, oxygen plants must employ a specialized technique to separate the oxygen from the air, often by collecting air in its gaseous form and liquefying it at cold temperatures.

Once it’s collected, it must be inspected and packaged into different grades.

The Oxygen Grades: From Aviation to Welding

There are several ways that industry professionals refer to oxygen grades. The Compression Gas Association (CGA) has identified seven grades of oxygen, A through G, which determine how pure the oxygen is. Oxygen may also be designated as USP, which means that it has been certified by the eponymous organization, the United States Pharmacopeia (USP).

Almost all oxygen produced in plants now meets USP requirements, mainly due to economic reasons of storing oxygen in separate facilities, but it is the purity of the oxygen (i.e., how much of any other gases are still present) and the way the oxygen cylinders are filled that separate oxygen grades. There are four accepted “grades” of oxygen used in various industries: welding, research, aviation and medical.

Welding oxygen is used in certain types of welding techniques, either to aid in the production of heat or as an additive to aid in stability of the process. While in use, other contaminants may enter the oxygen cylinder, such as acetylene, which is used during one type of welding. When a cylinder must be filled with oxygen, the fill station operator will detect whether there is a presence of acetylene. If there is, the cylinder is cleaned and later filled with oxygen. If the cylinder is labeled for medical oxygen, the cylinder must be evacuated before being refilled.

Aviation breathing oxygen (ABO) is strictly regulated, and neither medical nor industrial grade oxygen can be substituted because of these standards. The CGA’s Grade E is commonly also called aviator’s grade, and this oxygen must also go through additional drying steps before it goes into a cylinder.

Research grade oxygen is 99.999% pure (“five nines,” also called grade 5) and is used in both chemical research facilities and specialty welding applications in the aerospace industry.

Medical oxygen is used for oxygen therapy and hospitals, is designated as a drug and therefore must satisfy FDA requirements for compressed medical gas. One of the requirements is that cylinders containing oxygen must always be completed evacuated to minimize the risk of contamination. According to Dr. Larry Taylor from the University of Michigan, the FDA has prosecuted facilities for improperly filling medical grade oxygen cylinders.

Prescription for Medical Grade Oxygen:

Because the FDA classifies medical grade oxygen as a drug, you must have a prescription to purchase it as well as other oxygen-related medical devices, such as oxygen concentrators. It may seem like an unnecessary step since the production and fulfillment of medical grade oxygen is already regulated, but a prescription is an extra step to ensure that the oxygen you are getting is safe to use.

Have more questions about for Medical Grade Oxygen?

About Scott Ridl: Scott joined American Medical Sales and Rentals in 2008 as a Web Manager and Content Writer. He is a writer and designer. He is extensively trained on oxygen therapy products from leading manufacturers such as Inogen, Respironics, Chart, Invacare, ResMed and more. Scott works closely with respiratory therapists and oxygen specialists to educate the community about oxygen therapy products, COPD, asthma and lung diseases. He writes weekly columns and is passionate about educating the community on oxygen therapy and respiratory issues.

12 thoughts on “What Is Medical Grade Oxygen and Why Do I Need an RX?”

  • Bob Chandler

    I purchased a portable concentrator from you in about 2015. I provided you with a prescription. Is this prescription still good (it SHOULD be) if I needed another machine?

    • Margaret Goodman
      Margaret Goodman July 27, 2018 at 5:48 am

      Once you have a prescription on file with us you will not need to provide a new one. Prescriptions for CPAP machines do however have an expiration date.

  • Dominique

    Does va insurance help with getting one of these

    • Margaret Goodman
      Margaret Goodman February 28, 2019 at 4:33 am

      I strongly recommend calling your provider and talking with them to see what your coverage is. Because everyone has a different plan and type of coverage, I can't speak to that.

    • Richard

      If you are covered by VA have your Primary Care physician arrange a consult with Pulmonary. The Pulmonary physician will determine if you need oxygen therapy and write the prescription. He can also arrange for supplemental oxygen cylinder supply, a home oxygen concentrator, and - if you ask a portable oxygen concentrator. VA covers it all. They can also do liquid oxygen in most areas.

  • haidee casiguran
    haidee casiguran April 12, 2019 at 1:42 pm

    hi..can anyone recommend me the best digital purity test for medical oxygen? affordable but with quality...I'm from philippines. thank you

  • marcelle maher
    marcelle maher July 14, 2019 at 12:31 am

    need to get a POC.. Re. doctors prescription, do i need get a specific application from the Company I buy from or do doctors have specific guidelines.. thanks

    • Ed Rodgers

      Hello Marcelle, If you have the doctors prescription for oxygen therapy, we can help you get a machine that matches your prescription and needs. The information a doctor will provide you will include the frequency, the amount of oxygen and if you need it for all day, nighttime usage. Once your therapy needs are understood, the options of the different machines (portable, stationary) and the features (continuous flow or Pulse) can help select the right machine. Hope this helps.

  • Ranjit Chanion
    Ranjit Chanion March 13, 2020 at 5:05 am

    Hi, is it possible to give someone industrial grade oxygen instead of medical grade oxygen?
    is it safe?

    • Sanket Jain

      Though the oxygen purity level may seem the same, industrial oxygen tanks may have contaminants. Medical-grade oxygen is strictly regulated with a stringent purity check and cleaning process. Oxygen is a drug and requires a prescription for purchase as per FDA guidelines. Besides, medical-grade oxygen tanks can be traced to where they are - in case of recalls.

      • Vidor

        You Cannot have acetylene in an O2 tank. It doesn't work that way. They are in separate tanks, and do not mix until at the point of ignition. Both feed lines have backflow protectors. Acetylene exists in suspension in a completely other tank (floating in a medium). Should a bit of Acetylene get into an O2 tank, the O2 would agressively corrode the tank and compromise its integrity. For 100 years Oxy/Acetylene has been relatively safe.

  • Vidor Hudno

    Hey there! Just a point of info: Welding Oxygen is the same thing as Medical Oxygen. You cannot have contaminates in a tank with Oxygen due to the corrosive nature of the element. Welding O2 is super clean, otherwise, the tanks would rapidly rust internally, and compromise the tank. (I'm a welder and I use O2 in a lab environment)


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