Do You Need a Prescription for Oxygen?

Although we all breathe oxygen, medical oxygen is highly concentrated and qualifies as a medical device. As such, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires a prescription before you can obtain your supplemental oxygen. This helps ensure that you get a clear analysis of your oxygen requirements from a qualified medical professional along with the right oxygen delivery device for your needs.[1]
So, do you need a prescription for oxygen? The answer is yes, but let’s explore why you might receive that prescription. 

Why You Might Need an Oxygen Prescription

Because every cell in your body relies on oxygen to function properly, a doctor will prescribe supplemental oxygen if they find that you are not getting sufficient oxygen on your own. You might receive your oxygen prescription from your primary care physician, a palliative care doctor or a pulmonologist. There are any number of specialty physicians who might determine that you are in need of medical oxygen. Oxygen therapy is prescribed for a number of different causes for breathing difficulties, including breathlessness, hypoxemia and hypoxia; therefore, the doctor that prescribes your oxygen therapy will likely be the doctor treating your present condition. Most often the prescribing doctor will be a pulmonary specialist since they specialize in diseases of the lungs and bronchial tubes.

In order to determine how much oxygen you are currently getting and, accordingly, how much supplemental oxygen you will need, your doctor will administer a number of tests to ascertain your oxygen level. These tests will likely include the following:

  • Arterial blood gas (ABG) study: An arterial blood gas study is a blood test used to measure the acidity, or pH, of your blood, as well as your oxygen and carbon dioxide levels. This test is able to tell medical professionals how well your lungs are functioning and whether they are effectively allowing oxygen to be absorbed into your blood while removing carbon dioxide. These measurements are able to provide a great deal of helpful information to your doctors in just 15 minutes. Normal ABG measurements for oxygen fall between 75 and 100 mm Hg (or millimeters of mercury).[2]
  • Oximetry: Oximetry is a less invasive way to test a patient’s oxygen saturation. You are likely familiar with the pulse oximeter that is placed on your fingertip and uses two light frequencies (infrared and red) to determine the oxygen saturation level in the hemoglobin in your blood. Normal oxygen saturation levels (or SpO2 levels) generally fall between 95 and 100 percent. Any value falling under 90% is generally considered low.[2]

Once your doctor has determined your current oxygen levels, they will be able to list your low oxygen saturation levels as the cause for a medical oxygen prescription. They can then prescribe the correct amount of supplemental oxygen for your needs.

How Do You Get an Oxygen Prescription?

After your doctor has your oxygen saturation measurement and determines your oxygen needs, they will then be able to write your prescription for your supplemental oxygen therapy. Your prescription will state your oxygen level, along with other pertinent health information related to your particular condition that will help you move forward with getting the right oxygen delivery device for your needs. 

If you wondered, “Do you need a prescription for oxygen?” the answer is clear. Yes, you do. As noted, there are strict criteria for oxygen therapy. Your doctor must provide proof that they recently examined you, along with a detailed diagnosis, explanation of why you require supplemental oxygen and a prescription for your oxygen use, which includes information regarding your flow rate, duration and frequency of use and duration of need.[3]

Understanding Your Oxygen Prescription

It can be helpful to understand what your prescription should include, as it will provide you and your oxygen supplier with the information necessary to choose the right oxygen delivery device. If you will be using insurance coverage, they will also require certain information. Because your oxygen prescription is essential for maintaining safe oxygen levels for you and will be required by your oxygen provider, as well as in other situations during travel, review it carefully and ask your doctor any questions that may arise. Your prescription should include this information:[3] 

  • A diagnosis, which should explain why you require oxygen therapy
  • Information about the flow dosing (continuous versus pulse dose) 
  • Information regarding recommended oxygen dosage (liters per minute for continuous flow or milliliters per breath for pulse dose)
  • Information about frequency and duration of oxygen use
  • Recommended or potential delivery devices
  • Information for insurance providers or Medicare
  • Doctor’s contact information

Ask your doctor to review your oxygen prescription with you so that you are certain you understand how and when to use your supplemental oxygen, as well as ensuring that you have all the information necessary.

Deciding Which Oxygen Delivery Device Is Right for You

Choosing the right oxygen delivery device for your needs requires that you know a few things about how you will use your supplemental oxygen for your oxygen therapy. Before you and your doctor discuss which oxygen delivery device is right for you, they should tell you:

  • How frequently you will need to use supplemental oxygen
  • How much oxygen you will need (or the liters per minute or milliliters per breath)
  • Whether you will need continuous flow or pulse dosing
  • Whether you will need to use oxygen while sleeping, resting and/or exerting yourself

Your doctor will give you all of this information with your oxygen prescription, and they can also guide you toward the choices that will fulfill your oxygen needs. Your options include compressed oxygen tanks, liquid oxygen tanks and oxygen concentrators.[4]

From there, you should talk to your doctor about the pros and cons of each of your options, making sure to include your preferences, too. If you are discussing both oxygen tanks and oxygen concentrators, you may have particular concerns about portability, ease of travel, ease of refilling or replacing tanks, total oxygen capacity and more. Be open and honest about any concerns you have so that your doctor can help you make the right choice for your life. 

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