Signs and Symptoms of Hypoxia

What Is Hypoxia?

Hypoxia symptoms include changes in skin color, disorientation, confusion, dizziness, coughing and others.
Hypoxia symptoms include changes in skin color, disorientation, confusion, dizziness, coughing and others.

Hypoxia is low levels of oxygen in the body’s tissues. Hypoxemia is low levels of oxygen in the blood. While both hypoxia and hypoxemia can occur separately, they often occur together because if there is low blood oxygen, the blood does not deliver enough oxygen to the body’s tissues. The term hypoxia is often used to describe both low oxygen in the body’s tissues as well as low blood oxygen. 

What Are Symptoms of Hypoxia?

Signs and symptoms of hypoxia include

  • Changes in skin color, ranging from blue to cherry red
  • Blue skin, lips, and fingernails
  • Confusion
  • Disorientation
  • Coughing
  • Fast heart rate
  • Rapid breathing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Slow heart rate
  • Sweating 
  • Wheezing
  • Headache 

Hypoxia is a medical emergency. If you are experiencing symptoms of hypoxia, call 911 and get to a hospital’s emergency department.

What Causes Hypoxia?

Causes of hypoxia include:

How Is Hypoxia Diagnosed?

Hypoxemia is diagnosed with a physical examination, where a doctor will listen to the heart and lungs, and also check to see if the skin, lips, or fingernails have a bluish color. 

Tests used to check oxygen levels include:

  • Pulse oximetry
    • A small device with a sensor that clips to the finger and measures the amount of oxygen in the blood
    • Normal readings are about 94% to 99% oxygen saturation levels
  • Arterial blood gas test
    • A blood sample is taken from an artery to measure levels of oxygen in the blood
  • Pulmonary function tests

What Is the Treatment for Hypoxia?

Hypoxia is a medical emergency and treatment for hypoxia involves administration of oxygen in a hospital. 

  • Oxygen is typically supplied via a nasal canula or a mask that covers the nose and mouth. 
  • In some cases, asthma medications or an inhaler may be used to help patients breathe. 
  • Steroids may be used to help reduce inflammation.
  • Antibiotics may be given to treat underlying infection. 
  • In severe cases, patients may need oxygen in a hyperbaric chamber, and others will require mechanical ventilation (intubation).

What Are Complications of Hypoxia?

Hypoxia can cause serious complications, such as:

  • Brain damage
  • Paralysis
  • Heart damage
  • Tissue death (necrosis)
  • Brain death (vegetative state)
  • Can lead to cerebral palsy

How Do You Prevent Hypoxia?

In some cases, hypoxia can be prevented. 

  • If you have asthma, take medications as prescribed
  • Don’t smoke and avoid secondhand smoke
  • Exercise regularly to keep lungs healthy
  • Avoid high altitudes

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