Are You Getting Enough Oxygen?
Even if you are not short of breath, or experiencing symptoms of breathlessness, you blood oxygen levels could be dangerously low! Read this blog to learn about how much oxygen you are getting compared to how much you need.
The hallmark symptoms of COPD are shortness of breath, or feeling breathless. It's certainly one of the most common symptoms, as well as that most invasive. Whether you're the person with COPD or the caregiver, shortness of breath is scary and unsettling for everyone involved.
There are devices called pulse oximeters, which measure your oxygen saturation levels. This is important for COPD patients to know how much oxygen they are able to process. Pulse oximeters have become more popular and accessible in recent years.
This is both a good and bad thing because COPD patients may be relying as much on their oximetry results as their actual symptoms when evaluating their breathing capabilities. It can cause a lot of confusion.
The confusion comes from having a "normal" oxygen saturation level, but still feeling extremely short of breath. Also, it might be hard to notice any symptoms even when your oxygen saturation levels are dangerously low.
We are going to clear up this confusion in this blog.
The Difference Between Shortness of Breath and Being Hypoxic
There are the three main factors that impact how well your body is able to take up and use oxygen.
- How well your lungs absorb oxygen into your body and release carbon dioxide.
- How well your heart is able to pump oxygen throughout your body.
- How well your cells and muscles use the oxygen they get from your blood.
Obviously, various diseases like COPD or heart disease will inhibit some or all three of those factors. COPD causes intense lung damage, and even cardiac problems, that definitely can impact all three of these.Treatment methods including medication, supplemental oxygen therapy, and exercise can help in improving the way your body utilizes oxygen, and in turn, making you less short of breath.
Have you ever felt yourself gasping for air, or feeling out of breath even when you’re not exerting yourself? Well this can happen to anyone, and while it is a common symptom of COPD, not everyone who feels short of breath has COPD.
Breathlessness is associated with lung damage and/or airway inflammation but it can also be caused by:
- Heart health
- How fit you are
- Low red blood cell count (anemia)
Even if you are t feeling breathless, this does not always mean that you are hypoxic.
Being Hypoxic or Having Hypoxemia
These impact your body at two different stages when your body is working to absorb oxygen.
You can find your oxygen saturation level and test whether or not you have these conditions. There are two ways to measure it:
- Arterial blood gases test. This takes place at your doctor’s or a with a lab tech
- Using a pulse oximeter. This you can do on your own, and the small device fits over a finger tip. It uses infrared rays to measure the percentage of oxygen in your blood.
Oxygen saturation is largely dependent on your overall health. This can be indicated by how fast you are breathing during activity and rest.
A typical healthy person has oxygen saturation levels that range from 95 to 100%.When saturation levels drop to 90% and below that is considered low and unhealthy. COPD patients often dip below 90% at times.
Feeling Breathless But Not Hypoxic
Now that you have an understanding of oxygen saturation, and the symptoms associated with low levels of oxygen, you might be wondering, “Why am I so short of breath, but my oxygen levels are still normal?"
Well, even if you're experiencing extreme breathlessness, but your oxygen saturation levels remain in that 95% - 100% healthy range, then supplemental oxygen will not solve your problem.
Instead, you need to learn how to recover from breathlessness. Try stopping what you’re doing and resting right away.
After stopping the action that caused your breathlessness try these additional actions:
- Remind yourself that you know what to do. Taking action can help you overcome the anxiety that often goes along with being short of breath.
- Position yourself to breathe easier. Leaning forward or bending over helps drop your abdomen away from your lungs, making breathing easier. Lean your arms on your knees or on some stationary object like the wall or a counter. (I remember often seeing my dad doing this, especially after a severe coughing spell.)
- Work on controlling your breathing. If you know how to do diaphragmatic or pursed lip breathing, then do so. If you haven't learned those techniques yet, then at least work on slowing and deepening your breaths in and out.
- Once you are feeling better and more in control of your breaths, it may be time to resume whatever you had been doing. But you may need to modify the intensity to avoid re-triggering your breathlessness.
Pulmonary rehab is another great tool that can be beneficial in teaching you how to avoid and/or deal with this symptom. These are classes you take with trained professionals, they teach you breathing exercises and physical activities that are good for your level of health.
You can also look into a rescue, or quick-relief, inhaler. Talk with your doctor about these options, because they can offer some relief in your situation.
Hypoxic But Not Feeling Breathless
Even if you are not feeling at all breathless, your oxygen levels can still be low, and this is an important concept to understand. Low oxygen saturation levels are not healthy, do not ignore it. Get your oxygen levels tested regularly, even if you are not short of breath.
If you do measure low oxygen levels during a blood test, or while conducting pulse oximeter tests. Speak with your doctor right away about the next steps you must take to get your levels to normal.
This is often when people need a portable oxygen concentrator to use as their additional source of oxygen. Devices like the Inogen One G5, and the ARYA P5 Portable Oxygen Concentrator often oxygen patients medical grade oxygen they can use 24/7.
It means your blood and tissues are not getting the oxygen they need to survive, and it needs to be addressed right away.
The answer to hypoxia is supplemental oxygen therapy. However, how much and how often you need oxygen depends on the progression of hypoxia you are experiencing and your health care team will determine this. It is also important that your healthcare team helps you with a plan for how often to measure your oxygen levels with a home pulse oximeter.
If you have COPD, remember that shortness of breath (and other symptoms, such as coughing) are an important thing to take note of. Track your symptoms to measure your current health status and how your health changes over time.
As far as knowing your oxygen saturation level, you will need to monitor this regularly because even if you are not short of breath your oxygen levels could be low, and that is dangerous. This is around the time you will need to call LPT Medical at 1+(800)-946-1201 to talk about your oxygen device options. On the other hand, and unfortunately so, it is entirely possible to be short of breath, but have healthy oxygen saturation.