Over-the-Counter Oxygen Types, Uses, and Hazards Vector

Over-the-Counter Oxygen: Types, Uses, and Hazards (2024)

by | Updated: May 19, 2024

In recent years, the availability of over-the-counter (OTC) oxygen products has grown, making it easier for individuals to purchase oxygen canisters without a prescription.

These products, often found in drugstores, sporting goods stores, and online, are marketed for various uses, including athletic performance enhancement, altitude adjustment, and relief from air pollution.

However, it’s crucial to understand the distinction between these recreational oxygen canisters and medical oxygen, which is prescribed for specific health conditions.

This article explores the differences between over-the-counter oxygen and medical oxygen, the best OTC oxygen products available, and the role of oxygen concentrators in medical gas therapy.

Can You Buy Over-the-Counter Oxygen?

Yes, over-the-counter oxygen can be purchased, typically in the form of portable oxygen canisters. These products are available at various drugstores, sporting goods stores, and online platforms. They’re often marketed to athletes, travelers, or those who might need a quick boost of oxygen at high altitudes or in polluted environments.

However, it’s important to differentiate between these over-the-counter oxygen canisters and medical oxygen, which requires a prescription.

Medical oxygen is used for treating health conditions that lead to low blood oxygen levels, and it’s regulated to ensure safety and effectiveness for those purposes.

Over-the-counter oxygen products generally contain a lower concentration of oxygen and are intended for recreational or emergency use rather than medical treatment.

Over the Counter Oxygen Canister tank vector

What is Over-the-Counter Oxygen?

Over-the-counter oxygen refers to oxygen that is available for purchase without a prescription. These products typically come in small, portable canisters and are used for providing a short burst of inhaled oxygen.

They are marketed primarily for recreational use, including by athletes for performance enhancement, by individuals at high altitudes to alleviate the effects of thinner air, or by those seeking relief from air pollution.

These canisters usually contain a lower concentration of oxygen compared to medical oxygen, which is used under medical supervision for conditions that impair oxygen saturation in the blood.

Over-the-counter oxygen is designed for occasional use and is not intended to treat, cure, or prevent any disease or health condition. It’s often seen as a supplement or aid for temporary situations where increased oxygen might feel refreshing or beneficial.

Best Over-the-Counter Oxygen to Purchase

Boost Oxygen is an all-natural, 95% pure supplemental oxygen canister designed to enhance your respiratory health.

Our Top Pick
Boost Oxygen Large Canister (Over-the-Counter)

Boost Oxygen is a portable, all-natural supplemental oxygen canister designed to enhance energy, recovery, and respiratory health.

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Ideal for athletes, seniors, or anyone needing a quick boost, this portable canister provides essential oxygen support for improved energy, recovery, and performance. The easy-to-use mask fits comfortably, delivering a refreshing burst of oxygen with each inhale.

Whether you’re hiking at high altitudes, recovering from a strenuous workout, or simply need a breath of fresh air, Boost Oxygen offers a convenient solution.

Note: Over-the-counter oxygen canisters are not considered medical oxygen and are intended for recreational use only. They are not designed to treat or manage medical conditions requiring oxygen therapy.

What is Supplemental Oxygen?

Supplemental oxygen is additional oxygen provided to individuals who are unable to obtain sufficient oxygen through natural breathing due to medical conditions.

It is used primarily to maintain adequate oxygen saturation in the blood, ensuring that organs and tissues receive enough oxygen to function properly.

Supplemental oxygen can be administered in several forms:

  • Oxygen Tanks: Compressed or liquid oxygen stored in tanks and delivered through nasal tubes or masks.
  • Oxygen Concentrators: Devices that extract oxygen from ambient air and deliver it to the user, making them more convenient and less bulky than tanks for home use.
  • Portable Oxygen Concentrators (POCs): Compact devices designed for use while traveling or moving around, offering greater mobility.

This type of oxygen therapy is typically prescribed by a doctor after assessing blood oxygen levels through a process known as pulse oximetry or arterial blood gas testing.

It’s commonly used by individuals with chronic lung conditions like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), pulmonary fibrosis, or severe asthma, as well as those with severe heart conditions that affect oxygen levels.

What is an Oxygen Concentrator?

An oxygen concentrator is a medical device designed to provide oxygen therapy to individuals who require more oxygen than is available in ambient air.

It works by pulling in air from the surrounding environment, compressing it, and then using a filter system to separate and concentrate oxygen from nitrogen and other gases.

The device then delivers the concentrated oxygen through a tube, typically to a nasal cannula or a mask, at various flow rates suited to the user’s needs.

Oxygen concentrators are preferred over traditional oxygen tanks for several reasons:

  • Sustainability: They do not require refilling since they use ambient air.
  • Convenience: They are less bulky and easier to use at home or on the go, especially the portable models.
  • Cost-effectiveness: Over time, they can be more economical than repeated refilling of oxygen tanks.

These devices are crucial for people with respiratory conditions like COPD, asthma, or pulmonary fibrosis, as they help maintain adequate oxygen levels in the blood, thereby improving the quality of life and, in many cases, being essential for survival.

Oxygen concentrators are available in both portable and stationary models, making them suitable for use both at home and while traveling.

Is Oxygen a Drug?

Yes, oxygen is classified as a drug when used for medical purposes. Medical oxygen, prescribed for treating conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, and other respiratory or cardiac conditions, is regulated by health authorities to ensure safety and efficacy.

It is considered a drug because it is administered to achieve a therapeutic effect, such as maintaining adequate blood oxygen levels.

Over-the-counter oxygen products, on the other hand, are not intended for medical treatment and are not regulated as strictly. They are marketed for recreational use or for situations where a quick boost of oxygen might be beneficial.

How to Monitor Oxygen Levels at Home

Monitoring oxygen levels at home is simple with a pulse oximeter. This small, non-invasive device clips onto your fingertip to measure the oxygen saturation (SpO2) in your blood.

To use it, ensure your hand is warm and relaxed, then place the device on your finger. Within seconds, the display will show your oxygen saturation percentage and pulse rate.

For most healthy individuals, normal SpO2 levels range from 95% to 100%. Readings below 90% may indicate a need for medical attention. Regular monitoring can help manage chronic conditions and provide early detection of respiratory issues.

Our Top Pick
Zacurate Pro Series 500DL Fingertip Pulse Oximeter

This pulse oximeter is our top recommendation due to its accuracy, ease of use, quick response time, and excellent affordability.

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FAQs About Over-the-Counter Oxygen

Does Canned Oxygen Really Work?

Yes, canned oxygen can provide a temporary boost of oxygen. It is commonly used by athletes for enhanced performance, by individuals at high altitudes to counteract the effects of thinner air, and by those in polluted environments seeking relief.

However, it is not a substitute for medical oxygen therapy and is not intended to treat medical conditions.

Do You Need a Prescription for Canned Oxygen?

No, you do not need a prescription for canned oxygen. It is available over the counter at various retail outlets and online.

These products are designed for recreational or occasional use and do not require the regulation that medical oxygen does.

Does Canned Oxygen Help With Shortness of Breath?

Canned oxygen may provide temporary relief from shortness of breath, particularly in non-medical situations such as after intense physical activity or in high-altitude environments.

However, it is not suitable for treating chronic respiratory conditions or severe episodes of shortness of breath. For persistent or serious symptoms, medical evaluation and prescribed oxygen therapy are necessary.

How Long Will Canned Oxygen Last?

The duration of a canned oxygen product depends on the size of the canister and the frequency of use. Typically, a small canister provides a few minutes of oxygen, with each inhale lasting a few seconds.

For occasional use, such as a quick boost during physical activity or at high altitudes, one canister might last several sessions. Always check the manufacturer’s guidelines for specific usage instructions.

Related: How to Calculate How Long an Oxygen Tank Will Last

What Can I Use for Oxygen at Home?

For non-medical needs, over-the-counter oxygen canisters can be used to provide a temporary boost. For medical needs, options include oxygen concentrators, oxygen tanks, and portable oxygen concentrators (POCs).

These devices deliver oxygen at prescribed flow rates and are used under the supervision of a healthcare professional.

How Can I Get Medical-Grade Oxygen at Home?

To obtain medical-grade oxygen at home, you need a prescription from a healthcare provider. After an evaluation, they will determine the appropriate oxygen therapy and equipment for your needs.

This may include oxygen concentrators, tanks, or portable devices. Your healthcare provider or a medical supply company will arrange for the delivery and setup of the equipment, along with instructions for safe use and maintenance.

Final Thoughts

Understanding the differences between over-the-counter oxygen and medical oxygen is essential for making informed decisions about their use.

While OTC oxygen canisters provide a convenient option for recreational or emergency situations, they are not a substitute for medical oxygen therapy prescribed for chronic health conditions.

Products like Boost Oxygen offer a quick and portable solution for those needing a temporary boost, but for individuals with serious respiratory issues, oxygen concentrators and other medical devices remain crucial.

As always, consult a healthcare professional to determine the best oxygen therapy for your specific needs.

John Landry, BS, RRT

Written by:

John Landry, BS, RRT

John Landry is a registered respiratory therapist from Memphis, TN, and has a bachelor's degree in kinesiology. He enjoys using evidence-based research to help others breathe easier and live a healthier life.