Medical oxygen is an integral part of modern medicine – used to save lives and treat the symptoms of chronic respiratory disease. In addition to being administered in hospitals, it can also be used in a homecare environment to improve the condition and independence of patients who depend on oxygen therapy. 

However – whilst medical oxygen is something we may take for granted now, it has a rich and interesting history and hasn’t always been as readily available.

Read on to discover how medical oxygen has evolved since its initial discovery and how it was employed in the past. 

The Discovery of Oxygen

In the late eighteenth century, Unitarian minister, teacher, author and natural philosopher Joseph Priestly (1733 – 1804) made a remarkable discovery, when he obtained a colourless gas by heating red mercuric oxide.

Upon finding that a candle would burn, and a mouse would thrive in this gas he called it “dephlogisticated air” – to which the French chemist Antoine Lavoisier would later assign the name “oxygen.”

Developing Knowledge of the Pulmonary System

As time progressed, so did society’s knowledge of the pulmonary system and how this gas impacts it.

In 1816, Rene T.H. Laennec (1776–1856) invented the stethoscope for chest auscultation – laying the foundation for modern pulmonology with his book Diseases of the Chest. The spectrometer was invented four decades later by Bunsen and Kirchhoff in 1860 – the same year where Stokes and Hoppe-Seyler demonstrated the oxygen transport function of haemoglobin. 

The frequent use of medical oxygen, however, first became common in the early twentieth century when it was used to treat combat-induced pulmonary edema. The individual who helped bring oxygen therapy to a rational and scientific basis was John Scott Haldane (1860 – 1936) who published “ The therapeutic administration of oxygen” while at Oxford University. 

This expertise became relevant with the outbreak of World War One when poison gas was used on the battlefield. Oxygen was primarily used in the treatment of poisoning by phosgene, which was used as a choking gas. This harmful gas causes a build-up of fluid in the lungs (pulmonary edema) which eventually leads to death. 

The treatment of those who had been gassed was attempted both in the acute and chronic phases of poisoning. Acute poisoning was managed with portable “Haldane equipment” near the site of injury. This consisted of a pressurised gas cylinder, pressure regulator and reservoir bag which was attached to the regulator – as well as a tight-fitting mask with non-return valves.

A firm knowledge regarding oxygen therapy had been established by the conclusion of the First World War, where experiments had been undertaken to improve survival following acute gas poisoning and reduce mortality rate in the chronic phase.

The techniques involved in administering this care and treatment have not really changed to the present day – demonstrating the thorough insight and understanding that past medical practitioners had of oxygen therapy and how it should be used. 


Medical Oxygen Therapy – From Past to Present

Since then, oxygen therapy has been researched and used extensively in a wide range of applications, establishing itself firmly in the medical industry where it is employed by hospitals, EMS and first-aid providers in a wide range of conditions and settings. This includes resuscitation, major trauma, anaphylaxis, shock, major bleeding, active convulsions and hypothermia.

It’s also used in the effective treatment of long-term lung conditions such as COPD, chronic bronchitis and emphysema. The pivotal role that oxygen therapy plays in the medical industry can be seen reflected in the statistics of people affected by chronic illness, where it is estimated that in the UK 10,000 people are newly diagnosed with a lung disease every week.  

Oxygen therapy is an essential part of treatment for many of these patients – who depend on supplementary oxygen to breathe and live more independently. It’s also a treatment that could be in increased demand following the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic and the effects that “long COVID” has on lung health. 

This is where lightweight cylinders are very useful – and over the years, advancement in cylinder technology, such as the development of Type 3 cylinders, has delivered real benefits to patients.

Lighter cylinders are much easier to lift. This increased portability is highly beneficial for people who depend on oxygen therapy, as it enables them to carry cylinders with them outside the home. This gives users greater independence and allows them to live fuller lives that aren’t constricted to hospital beds or bulky machines at home. 

To find out more about the use of lightweight oxygen cylinders in both the healthcare and homecare setting, check out our blog here. <LINK TO: AMS January Blog – Medical Gas Cylinders – Healthcare vs Homecare Settings when live> 

Breath of life: the evolution of oxygen therapy – PMC (


AMS Medical Oxygen Cylinders – A Lightweight Solution

 Our medical oxygen cylinders are some of the lightest Type 3 carbon composite cylinders available on the market, and up to 50% lighter than traditional Type 1 and Type 2 products that are still in widespread use across the market. 

Certified for home oxygen use and in markets across the globe – our lightweight oxygen cylinders provide significant practical and financial benefits to prescribers, patients and providers.

Portable Oxygen Cylinders from AMS Composite Cylinders

Our lightweight portable home oxygen cylinders are available in a range of standard and customised sizes, including 1L,2L and 3L capacities. They are produced to ISO and EN standards (including ISO-11119-2, ISO 11119-1, EN 12245, EN 12257, ISO 7666 and ISO 11118) and to the requirements of UN PED/TPED, DOT (USA) and TC (Canada). For Europe, cylinders can be Pi marked and/or Rho marked, depending on the intended region of use. 

Products include carbon composite cylinders for a wide variety of breathing air, oxygen therapy and other applications, such as healthcare, respiratory, hydrogen fuel cell, SCBA (Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus), laboratory, emergency and environmental uses.

Find out more here.