Coronavirus Symptoms: Low Oxygen Level? Know The Signs You Need Medical Help

Coronavirus cases are rising sharply across the country and filling up hospitals.
COVID-19 | HealthInsta

Coronavirus cases are rising sharply across the country and filling up hospitals. Some, requiring critical care are scouring for beds and oxygen supply when there's an acute shortage of the same. Patients and caregivers are running pillar to post scouting for crucial supplies and resources- right from oxygen cylinders, ICU beds to medicines.

Shortness of breath is a common COVID-19 symptom

Now, shortness of breath and oxygen deprivation are common symptoms caused by the infection. Many, worrying about the symptoms are already stocking up on oxygen support machines and cylinders at home, rushing to hospitals.

However, not every COVID-19 patient facing breathing difficulties needs immediate hospitalization. Dr Randeep Guleria, Director, All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) recently also raised the issue, adding that not every patient requires oxygen therapy and doing so intermittently deprives it for the ones who actually need it.

It’s important to remember that breathlessness and fluctuating oxygen levels are concerning issues, but do not require immediate hospitalization. The only time a COVID+ patient really requires admission is when the signs turn critical and start to impact vital functioning.

At a time like this, when the situation is critical, it's important that we all know what oxygen saturation really is, and when it is the right time to seek medical help.

What is oxygen saturation? How does COVID-19 impact your breathing?

Oxygen saturation refers to the level (percentage) of oxygenated haemoglobin in the blood which is transported from the lungs to various organs and helps sustain vital functioning. Readings above 94 are considered healthy. However, with COVID, the oxygen supply in the body could be acutely affected and is also often taken as a sign of the severity of the disease. The SARS-COV-2 virus can cause widespread inflammation in the lungs and the chest cavity, creating glass-like opacities (seen via CT scans and X-rays) that impact the supply of oxygenated blood in the body.

While SpO2 levels between 94-100 are considered healthy, readings below 94 can lead to hypoxemia, which can unleash further problems. Readings that fall consistently below 90, are considered to be warning signs and call for medical aid.

When does a COVID patient actually require intensive oxygen support?

Shortness of breath, breathing difficulties, chest pain are all signs of oxygen deprivation. However, for some patients, dipping oxygen levels and shortness of breath could complicate respiratory infections, deprive oxygen levels, impact vital organs and impact regular functioning. It could also come up in the form of Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS), which requires help.

Now, oxygen deprivation and respiratory symptoms could be effectively managed at home, to an extent and not all cases need hospitalization or critical care. Determining the time, when a patient actually requires intensive care, in times like these actually depends on these factors and critical symptoms:

If your oxygen level goes beyond 91 for 1-2 hours

Blood oxygen (SpO2) levels above 95 are considered good. Readings between 91-94 should be monitored. However, a person should seek help if oxygen levels fall or consistently linger below the 91 mark.

Now, temporary resources like the use of oxygen therapy at home or prone breathing could help raise oxygen levels. However, if the readings continue to destabilize or remain the same for 1-2 hours at a stretch, that should be considered the sign to seek imminent help. Those battling pre-existing respiratory conditions, the elderly and suffering from lung complications need to be prioritized for care.

Bluish lips/ discolouration of the face

Most of us, by this point, are aware of the classic, common signs of the infection. However, some signs, such as that of a severe COVID can go easily unnoticed and cause complications later. One of them is bluish lips, discolouration of the face or extremities.

Bluish tinge on the lips, also medically referred to as cyanosis, can strike when the blood oxygen levels run extremely low. Under normal circumstances, healthy oxygenated blood gives our skin a red-pinkish glow, which is normal. However, when the blood oxygen levels are dangerously low, it can cause a bluish, pale tinge, and the skin can feel extremely cold to touch. It has also now been observed that with patients suffering from happy hypoxia ( low oxygen readings with no other signs of visible degradation), a bluish tinge can be a tell-tale sign of danger and demands critical care.

Dipping oxygen levels and pain in the chest or lungs

Oxygen levels continuining to dip is a serious sign of danger for a COVID patient. While doctors continue to stress that fluctuating oxygen levels could be managed at home to an extent, patients should be immediately rushed for help if the following signs are observed:

  • Pain in the chest
  • Short of breath, huffing and puffing
  • Persistent pain, pressure in the chest
  • Continuous coughing
  • Restlessness
  • Throbbing headache

These are also considered to be emergency warning signs of severe COVID-19, so do not ignore these symptoms at any cost.

Confusion, delirium, loss of consciousness

A loss or deprivation in oxygen levels can also restrict critical blood flow to the brain and many core blood vessels which control normal neurological functioning. In the case when oxygen levels go extremely low or slip beyond the warning mark, it could cause a lot of neurological complications such as confusion, delirium, dizziness, troubled or poor concentration and some visual disorders. Shortness of oxygen could also cause blood vessels in the brain, restricting important functioning. Newer studies and researches have also shown that nearly 82% of moderate and severe COVID patients who undergo hospitalization had neurological complications.

In many cases, low, critical oxygen levels could also lead to loss of consciousness, cause an inability to stay awake or even get up, apart from the above-listed critical warning signs of danger. Seek help at once.

Source/Reference: Times of India