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Sunday, July 25, 2021

Covid-19 and blood oxygen levels: when to seek help

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Oxygen is the fuel your body needs to function. Insufficient oxygen in the blood can interfere with the function of the heart and brain.

Doctors have discovered that some people with COVID-19 have dangerously low blood oxygen — even though they don’t feel short of breath.

“We’re seeing reports of ‘silent hypoxia,’ or low oxygen levels in some patients without severe symptoms,” says pulmonologist Wayne Tsuang, MD.

Oxygen saturation has ideal ranges for most ages and could impact people’s personal health in some cases.

Blood oxygen levels can have implications for people’s health, as several conditions can arise from levels outside the ideal range.

High blood oxygen saturation may cause hyperoxemia, and low saturation causes hypoxemia or cyanosis.

Doctors and other health professionals measure blood oxygen via a pulse oximeter.

Most children will need high oxygen saturation levels to function normally.

The idea range is roughly 95 to 100 percent of red blood cells passing through the lungs will leave saturated with molecular oxygen.

Children with low oxygen saturation may require oxygen therapy.

Adults require high oxygen levels the same as children, so around 95 to 100 percent.

Anyone with lower saturation levels may have an issue with their lungs and seek treatment.

Adults with less than 92 percent saturation may need a blood gas assessment (BGA) to determine whether they need to receive oxygen.

Older adults typically have lower saturation levels compared to their younger counterparts.

An acceptable level for some older men and women is around 95 percent.

Health conditions will mean these values vary, but blood oxygen below 92 percent requires emergency treatment.

People should watch out for symptoms of hyperoxemia and hypoxemia, which indicate oxygen level fluctuations.

Hypoxemia symptoms, which are more like Coronavirus include:

  • Coughing
  • Wheezing
  • Confusion
  • Headaches
  • Shortness of breath
  • A fast heartbeat
  • Bluish skin, fingernails, and lips

Hyperoxemia symptoms include:

  • Changes in skin colour ranging from blue to a deep red
  • Confusion
  • Coughing
  • Rapid breathing
  • Shortness of breath
  • A slow heartbeat
  • A fast heartbeat
  • Excessive sweating

Remember, too, that low oxygen is just one sign of COVID-19. Even if you have a healthy blood oxygen level, don’t ignore other possible symptoms, like cough or shortness of breath.  

“If you have any concerns or questions, your doctor will look at all of your symptoms and vital signs to get the whole picture,” says Dr. Tsuang.

Image Credit: Getty

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