Can Welding Oxygen Be Used in a Medical Emergency?

Oxygen has a 20.9% concentration in natural air and is graded from A to F when manufactured, which helps differentiate medical and industrial. Sometimes, medical situations occur where medical oxygen is unavailable, but commercial oxygen such as welding is available. In such circumstances, can welding oxygen be used in a medical emergency?

 Welding oxygen can be used in a medical emergency, provided hygienic precautions are taken and the right apparatus is used. Oxygen used for medical purposes and welding undergo the same manufacturing processes, but the medical grade oxygen is made purer. However, it is not recommendable to use welding oxygen for medical purposes for prolonged periods.

There is no difference between medical and welding oxygen in some countries, and they are used interchangeably. I will handle different aspects of the two types of oxygen to help you understand their uses and why they are graded. 

Oxygen Grading

Labeling and grading of oxygen are done according to the United States Pharmacopoeia (USP). According to the standards set by the body, oxygen packed in cylinders should be at least 99%. Then color coding should be done on these cylinders for easy differentiation of the types of oxygen.

There is very little difference between the medical grade and welding oxygen. Medical oxygen is purer, with 99.5% oxygen, while that used for welding is 99.2%. This difference brings about grading, which is done from A to G.

Oxygen has different uses according to its grade. One used for medical purposes is handled with more care than the rest, so contamination is low. It is one of the reasons welding oxygen is not recommended for use for medical emergencies because it might be contaminated.

What Makes Welding Oxygen Different from Medical Oxygen?

Although oxygen used for welding and medical purposes undergo the same manufacturing process, some differences exist. Medical oxygen is used for maintaining oxygen levels in the blood. Welding oxygen is used in industrial applications such as joining metals, heat production, and stabilization.

Another notable difference is how the two are refilled. With medical-grade oxygen, cylinders must be emptied of their content and filled almost immediately. A lot of documentation is also involved for this type of oxygen.

When dealing with welding oxygen, only a few questions are asked. Once specified, the cylinders are tested to check for acetylene. If they are free from this compound, they are filled without requiring any documentation. Cleaning is done to remove acetylene when found in the cylinders.

Also, a prescription from a recognized medical facility or certified practitioner when buying medical oxygen. Once bought, monitoring is required from the practitioner to ensure the right quantities are being administered to patients. There are no such requirements for welding oxygen. 

Special apparatus are used with medical oxygen such as regulators, oxygen masks, or breathing tubes. The practitioner recommends a flow rate to control the intake amount, and data is recorded after a specific duration. 

Effects of Exposure to too Much Welding Oxygen

I have noted earlier that welding oxygen is not dangerous to the human body and can be used in a medical emergency. Like everything else, too much oxygen exposure (above the 20.9% average) is not healthy. Excess exposure can lead to lung damage and psychological problems. 

When there is too much oxygen in the body, hemoglobin becomes overwhelmed. Instead of transporting oxygen to the body organs as it should, it works slowly since the oxygen molecules get attached to it. The lungs are unable to get the excess oxygen out, leading to toxicity.

Also, the toxicity affects the alveoli, making them get filled with water. As a result, the regular functioning of the lungs is affected, and the lungs no longer inflate. Then, oxygen insufficiency in the blood occurs, creating multiple health problems. 

Oxygen toxicity can be identified through some undesirable symptoms in the body. A feeling of breathlessness is experienced, eventually developing into a severe lung damage case. Other symptoms can include:

  • Dizziness
  • Convulsion
  • Fatigue
  • Shivering 
  • Nausea
  • Twitching
  • Hiccups
  • Chest pain
  • Irritability and anxiety

In extreme instances, extreme oxygen exposure can lead to death.

Remember that oxygen toxicity in adults cannot be treated since the action is irreversible. But, for kids below 5 years, the toxicity can be corrected since their lungs are still developing at this age.

Importance of Handling Oxygen Cylinders with Care

Manufactured oxygen can be hazardous when not handled with care. In the case of a fire, it can spread fast when the oxygen in the cylinder is leaking. Whether using welding or medical oxygen, I recommend using cylinders that are in perfect condition to prevent such accidents.

Often, oxygen cylinders come with a regulator. It should be rated for the pressure to ensure handlers know which gauge in the regulator is meant for high and low pressure. Regular check and maintenance for the regulator are necessary to prevent leaks and bursts.

Sealants and lubricating oils must never be used for the cylinders’ threads. Oxygen can be highly reactive to these, leading to explosions. Instead, clean compressed air should be used for blowing the threads.

Oxygen cylinders are made to last. But, that is not a reason to neglect them altogether. They should be checked every 5-10 years for signs of wear and tear, which can cause gas leaks and contamination.

Oxygen cylinders must always be kept in well-ventilated areas. Sometimes, leaks can occur, and like I had mentioned earlier, this gas is highly flammable. Incidents of fire can be prevented by keeping these cylinders in places with good air circulation.

It doesn’t hurt to help save a life. In cases of a medical emergency, welding oxygen can be used that one time to help the patient if there is no hospital around. Although a one-time life-saving incident is allowed, it should never be made a habit since such stations do not have the right tools to administer oxygen to such patients. Also, it is important to understand the quantity required, which can only be done in a medical facility. 

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