One of the basic needs of every human body is an adequate supply of oxygen to all cells. Without this essential element to the heart and brain, you will die within six minutes. In a shorter period without oxygen, your body will begin to suffer consequences that may or may not be reversible. Take care when the blood oxygen is either too low or too high.
What Is Blood Oxygen?
The chemical element oxygen is a small but important part of the atmosphere. Critical for human health, the oxygen level in the blood is usually strictly controlled by the human body. The normal concentration or level of oxygen in the blood is usually defined as over 95% when breathing room air. With a blood oxygen level less than 88%, most people will begin to notice symptoms.
Low Blood Oxygen Level
A low blood oxygen level, also called hypoxemia, is defined as an oxygen level in the blood that is lower than normal. The lower limit of normal is typically defined as 90%. The level of oxygen in your blood is determined by measuring how much oxygen is in a sample of arterial blood.
Common symptoms of low blood oxygen may include shortness of breath and fatigue NOT associated with exercise. You may also notice that you are not able to exercise as you normally would. In severely low oxygen, you may become confused and be unable to communicate clearly.
Causes of low blood oxygen levels may be environmental, medication induced, or due to another medical condition. The most common causes of low blood oxygen are medical conditions including: certain heart defects, chronic lung disease, pneumonia, pulmonary edema, pulmonary embolus, anemia, and acute respiratory distress syndrome. High altitude and sleep apnea can also lead to decreased oxygen levels.
- Quit Smoking. If you smoke, stop now. Smoking is a known cause of lung disease that can lead to low oxygen levels.
- Avoid Passive Smoking. Studies over the last several years seem to show that secondhand smoke is as bad or worse than smoking yourself. Avoid areas where others are smoking. Make your environment a smoke-free one.
- Take Regular Exercise. Regular exercise will help your body develop efficient oxygen transport mechanisms. If you currently suffer from low blood oxygen, work with your doctor or physical therapist to develop an exercise routine that is right for you.
When to See a Doctor
You should see a doctor if you develop shortness of breath, cough, headache or other symptoms that do not resolve when you rest. If you have shortness of breath during sleep or if shortness of breath seems much worse than normal with only minimal exertion, be sure to see your healthcare provider as soon as possible.
Hyperoxemia is a serious condition in which the oxygen level in the blood is extremely high. Usually experienced by scuba divers or astronauts, this condition may also be seen in patients who are being treated with hyperbaric oxygen therapy.
Symptoms of high blood oxygen levels usually start with visual disturbances followed quickly by confusion and disorientation. In very severe cases, hyperoxemia can lead to seizures and brain damage.
Scuba divers and astronauts must undergo training to recognize and prevent this problem. Any patient undergoing hyperbaric oxygen treatments is continuously monitored to prevent blood oxygen levels that are too high.
Blood oxygen levels must be maintained within a certain range to avoid health problems associated with levels that are too high or too low. Oxygen levels that are not optimal can lead to irreversible damage in the human body.