How Safe Are Your Blood Oxygen Saturation Levels?
Last updated: July 2020
If you are diagnosed anything other than mild COPD I always advocate buying an oximeter to check blood oxygen levels, more so when active. An oximeter is attached to the end of a finger, can be brought for very few dollars, and is worth its weight in gold. If you use oxygen, an oximeter is essential. When taking a reading you should also do other than what I did at one time, and not ignore low readings.
Resting blood oxygen levels
When not suffering from an exacerbation mine can be as high as 92% when sitting here at my computer typing. But rise and walk to another part of my home, or take part in any activity without oxygen and my levels may well fall into the low 80's, sometimes to 79%. Saturation levels that low is dangerous.
I started using an oximeter four years ago as I wanted to know how low my blood saturation levels fell. I was often breathless and soon became aware my oximeter often showed 84% when exercising. I felt I was helping myself stay fitter and foolishly chose to ignore the reading – not realizing the harm I was doing. I loved country walks. Where I live we have great footpaths so stupid me chose to take a short walk even though I had to stop to regain my breath after very few yards.
The result was I often stopped to hang my body over fences, gates or anything I could grab hold of as I tried to regain breath. I had no idea what my saturation levels were as I was not carrying my oximeter but a guess is in the 70's. My heart rate was very high, in the 100's. I was foolish but not having a heart attack made that my lucky day.
What happened when I overexerted myself
The reward was my body kicked back - hard. I felt not only ill but like I was dying. I could hardly move. Lay on my bed gasping while having a dreadful foreboding that I was in my very last days. My saturation levels had become permanently low. It seemed to me my instinct was right – I was dying. Because I had ignored everything I knew about COPD and what was true.
I told an oxygen assessment nurse what was happening. Managing to get a fast referral for an assessment, I was soon at the local hospital. I did the walk test in a hospital corridor with an oximeter attached to a finger. I was stopped after a few steps, and given oxygen and a cannula with two liters a minute flowing. Another short distance and I was ordered to sit and rest while levels rose. The oxygen then increased to 4 liters. Wow that felt different.
I learned my lesson with my levels
That was more than three years ago. Since that day I have used 4 lpm mobility oxygen. At times of exacerbation sometimes 2 lpm resting also. Now I no longer feel like I am dying; I do not get as out of breath doing light exercise as I used to. But most of all, my oxygen saturation levels are kept good. I don't often get ill anymore and know my vital organs, including my heart, is safer.
Looking back to how I felt before I was prescribed oxygen and them awful days after my foolishness. If you have ever wondered how a fish might feel when it is taken out of water - that, I imagine, is how I felt when I was very low on oxygen.
Proper oxygen is essential to everyone
O2 is what keeps our vital organs healthy. Some organs need lots of oxygen to work well, others less. But if your blood is low in this most vital of gases your heart will beat very much faster to try to get more O2 into your bloodstream to give your organs what is needed. In many cases a no-win situation develops as the lungs are not capable of getting enough oxygen into the bloodstream as the heart continues its rapid beating.
I suffered some small but not life threatening damage to the right side of my heart as some stretching was caused. I also now have an irregular heartbeat, AF, as a result. We are given oxygen to keep our organs, including the heart, healthy. Not because we get breathless. While the body will adapt to less oxygen there is limits due to the vital organs needing a good supply to work. There comes a point when our bodies can adapt no more.
Organ or heart failure becomes a real possibility without prescribed oxygen. I know of more than one who has died after being prescribed oxygen for mobility. Then refusing to use it out of false pride. If you are offered oxygen, take it with open hands. Embrace it because you will have been given a new lease of life.
Without oxygen I would be able to do little, and probably not be alive today to write this article. Instead, I lead a good life. Yes I do use a mobility scooter to get around as walking is hard and very slow when we become breathless. Using a scooter leaves me with more energy to attend many venues, and to enjoy my hobby, photography, and family.
Not all those with COPD will be prescribed oxygen. Some are CO2 retainers, and it would be dangerous to use supplementary oxygen if you are a retainer. If you are a retainer all will be explained at an assessment. Some get very breathless even though blood oxygen levels are good. But if your oxygen level is 88 or below you will without doubt be prescribed oxygen as to stay at such low levels almost certainly will cause harm. The aim here in the UK is to keep saturation levels at around 92% as a low. But be aware. Different countries have vastly different ideas on what levels is needed and what is not.
Be mindful of your levels and your limits
If you notice your blood oxygen level is 88% or below get in contact with your medic as soon as possible and ask if you need oxygen.
Until I write again smile because then the world smiles with you. But most of all: Breathe Easy.
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