Oftentimes when thinking about health people tend to monitor their weight, ability to move around, or even their blood pressure or blood sugar levels. Yet, SpO2 levels are a key indicator of health as well, and an oxygen saturation monitor is a simple device to use.
An oxygen saturation monitor measures the amount of oxygen in the blood, or the SpO2 level. SpO2 stands for peripheral capillary oxygen saturation. To understand exactly what that means, it is helpful to understand how these monitors work.
The blood is made up of a protein called hemoglobin that transports oxygen to cells throughout the body. A pulse oximeter, or oxygen saturation monitor, uses light sensors to read it. When hemoglobin is saturated with oxygen it is bright. As the amount of oxygen decreases, the blood darkens. Pulse oximeters monitor the amount of blood in the capillaries around the peripheral, or in thin skin using this method. It is sensed in the peripheral, such as a fingertip or earlobe because it is easier to shine light through those areas.
The amount of oxygenation in your blood can tell you a lot about your health.
Why is blood oxygenation important?
Oxygen is an energy source for the entire human body. By providing energy, oxygen allows the cells to do their job, grow and repair. It is a vital part of life, and a key to overall health. Absence of oxygen leads to death, but poor oxygenation over long periods of time has detrimental effects as well.
Poor blood oxygenation can lead to a host of undesirable health issues including:
- Vision impairment
- Weakened muscles
- Short term memory problems
- Reduced ability to focus
Adequate blood oxygenation works against the negative effects and has additional benefits for people seeking health. Even those who are already at peak levels of health, such as athletes, can benefit from monitoring their levels of oxygen in the blood.
Increased SpO2 has many benefits such as:
- Better performance on endurance activities
- Improved mood, memory and focus
- Decreased pain
- Increased recovery and healing
What is a safe level of oxygen in the blood?
Too low of an oxygen level has detrimental effects, and an increased level has desired effects. Yet, what it the correct level of oxygen in the blood? Anything in the range of 95 to 100% saturation is considered normal.
When numbers dip below 95 it is important to assess why since low oxygen over time leads to many unhealthy side effects. A dramatic decrease in oxygen could also indicate an acute, traumatic event. That is one reason why monitoring blood oxygen saturation levels is important for people that are ill or suffering from disease. It can help family members, nurses and/or doctors to intervene immediately.
People who are healing or recovering from disease are not the only ones susceptible to low levels of oxygen in their blood.
What are the symptoms of low blood oxygen levels?
If you’re using a pulse oximeter, a reading below 95% will indicate low oxygen levels, but many times there are situations where levels are low and a oxygen saturation monitor isn’t present. In those situations, it is important to recognize the symptoms of low blood oxygen levels. They are:
- Rapid or shallow breathing
- A sense of unprovoked euphoria
- Confusion and foggy thoughts
- Dizziness or lightheaded feelings
- Vision problems
- Rapid heart rate
- A bluish tint to the lips, outer ear or fingernails
In severe cases the symptoms will be obvious, but in mild cases it is important to understand all of the ways it can affect the person suffering from a low oxygen level.
As people age, their oxygen saturation levels should remain the same. The normal oxygen saturation levels in elderly are the same as the normal oxygen level for adults unless they are suffering from respiratory diseases. For patients that have a condition that affects their SpO2, it is not uncommon to see levels as low as 88%.
What causes blood oxygen to be low?
Diseases that impair the respiratory system cause blood oxygen to be low. These conditions occur when the body is unable to take in oxygen, it is unable to properly store it in the blood for transportation to the cells, or the cells do not take up the oxygen that is being delivered.
Common conditions that chronically affect overall health related to blood oxygen saturation levels are:
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- Congenital heart disease
- Heart disease
- Fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome
- High levels of stress
There are also emergency and traumatic situations that cause blood oxygen levels to drop drastically and immediately. Any injury or stress below would be an acute reason for blood oxygen to be low:
- A punctured lung
- Acute respiratory distress syndrome
- Allergic reactions
- Pulmonary embolism
Yet, there are healthy individuals without disease or injury who experience low blood oxygen levels. The causes can include:
- High intensity exercise
- Endurance activities
- Training in high altitude
In these cases, the issue is not chronic, but it is still important to recognize the causes and symptoms as well as how to increase overall SpO2.
How to increase SpO2
In acute cases it is important to increase oxygen levels to prevent death. This is best done by professionals or by engaging in first aid.
Increasing blood oxygen saturation levels is also important for those who suffer from chronic conditions and exertion induced lowering of SpO2. The normal oxygen level in air is around 21%, and through multiple breaths the human body can convert that to a SpO2 of 100%.
To increase SpO2 athletes, those in healing, or those with chronic conditions can:
- Take deep, purposeful breaths
- Breath through pursed lips
- Eat a diet rich in iron
- Add oxygen delivering plants to their homes
- Decrease and manage stress
- Cardiovascular-pulmonary conditioning exercises
The list of ways to increase SpO2 is similar to other lists generated with health improvement in mind. Not only does your current level of blood oxygen saturation say a lot about your health, increasing it is a great way to get healthier.