Blood oxygen level is the amount of oxygen circulating in the blood. Red blood cells carry most of the oxygen, collecting it from the lungs and delivering it to the rest of the body.
Your body closely monitors blood oxygen levels to keep them within a specific range so that there is enough oxygen for the needs of every cell. A person’s blood oxygen level is an indicator of how well the body distributes oxygen from the lungs to the cells, and it is important for people’s health.
A blood oxygen level that is too low compared with the average level of a healthy person can be a sign of a condition known as hypoxemia. This develops when the body has difficulty delivering oxygen to all of its cells, tissues, and organs.
Oxygen saturation refers to the percentage of oxygen in a person’s blood. A healthy oxygen saturation level range between 95% and 100%. If a person’s level drops below this range, they may experience symptoms associated with a lack of oxygen, such as trouble breathing and confusion.
Measuring your blood oxygen level can be done using a small device known as a pulse oximeter. A pulse oximeter is a small clip that often attaches to a finger, although it will also work on an ear or a toe. It measures blood oxygen indirectly by light absorption through a person’s pulse. The newest Apple Watch also takes blood oxygen levels.
If your blood oxygen level is below 95% you may have the following symptoms:
Shortness of breath
High blood pressure
Lack of coordination
The causes of low blood oxygen range from:
Insufficient oxygen in the air (high altitude)
Inability of the lungs to inhale and send oxygen to all cells and tissues (and illness)
Inability of the bloodstream to circulate to the lungs, collect oxygen, and transport it around the body
You should contact a doctor if you:
Experience severe and sudden shortness of breath
Experience shortness of breath when at rest
Have severe shortness of breath that worsens during exercise or physical activity
Wake suddenly with shortness of breath or a feeling of choking
Are at high altitude and experience severe shortness of breath with a cough, rapid heartbeat, and fluid retention
Treatment for low blood oxygen levels symptoms include:
Avoiding secondhand smoke
Eating a nutritious diet containing whole foods
Many conditions can cause low blood oxygen levels but treating the underlying condition responsible will generally improve blood oxygen levels.
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