Safe Oxygen Levels: What Should My Oxygen Level Be?

Safe Oxygen Levels: What Should My Oxygen Level Be?

safe oxygen levelsIf you’re using supplemental oxygen, it’s important to understand what your oxygen levels should be and when your oxygen levels aren’t safe. Many people with COPD have oxygen levels that are below normal, even when using supplemental oxygen. At what point do your oxygen levels go from being below normal to unsafe? Let’s first explore what it means to have low blood oxygen levels.

Low Blood Oxygen Levels = Hypoxemia

When blood oxygen levels drop below normal, a condition known as hypoxemia occurs. In COPD, hypoxemia is a problem related to your breathing. Hypoxemia is determined by measuring the amount of oxygen present in a blood sample taken from an artery, or an arterial blood gas. It can also be estimated using a pulse oximeter, a small device that attaches to your finger and measures the oxygen saturation level in your blood.

Normal arterial oxygen levels as measured by an arterial blood gas range from 75 to 100 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg). According to the Mayo Clinic, values under 60 mm Hg usually indicate that a person needs supplemental oxygen. Normal oxygen saturation levels as measured by pulse oximetry range from 95% to 100 percent. Values under 90% are considered low.[1]

Blood Oxygen Levels: What’s Unsafe?

Unsafe oxygen levels are determined by your doctor but in general, you qualify for supplemental oxygen according to Medicare guidelines when your arterial blood gas is at or below 55 mm Hg and/or your pulse oximetry reading is at or below 88% under certain conditions. This doesn’t mean that a pulse oximetry reading of 90% is safe for you. Whenever blood oxygen levels drop for more than a short period of time, your organs and tissues don’t get the oxygen they need to function properly. Over time, this can lead to serious health consequences, such as pulmonary hypertension (high blood pressure in the lungs) and polycythemia (increased amount of red blood cells).[2]

Maintaining Safe Oxygen Levels

When you’re given a prescription for supplemental oxygen, your doctor should give you a safe range of oxygen saturation levels that she wants you to maintain. If you consistently fall below this range, you should notify your doctor as an adjustment may need to be made in your oxygen flow rate.

Your doctor may also give you permission to “titrate” your oxygen flow rate according to your oxygen saturation levels. For example, if your doctor determines that your safe oxygen saturation level should be 92% or above, she may advise you to increase your oxygen flow rate if your saturation drops below 92 percent. Maintaining safe oxygen levels is important for your health and well-being and if this becomes a problem for you while on supplemental oxygen, talk to your doctor as soon as possible.

Following Your Doctor’s Order

Although supplemental oxygen is beneficial to patients who need it, some patients fail to use it as prescribed. This is due to many reasons, including lack of a clear understanding of the benefits of supplemental oxygen and the reluctance to wear a nasal cannula or be tied down to an oxygen delivery source.[3] But using supplemental oxygen for more than 15 hours a day improves survival for some patients with COPD. That’s why it’s so important to follow your doctor’s orders.

Never increase or decrease your oxygen flow rate without first consulting with your doctor. Use your oxygen therapy as prescribed and never allow someone else to use your oxygen. If you’re having difficulties using your oxygen the way it’s ordered, talk to your doctor about an alternative oxygen delivery system. Sometimes switching nasal cannulas or oxygen delivery sources is all it takes to improve adherence to oxygen therapy. Finally, if you have any concerns about using supplemental oxygen, discuss them with your doctor.


[1] Mayo Clinic. Hypoxemia (low blood oxygen). December 25, 2015.

[2] Kent, B. D., Mitchell, P. D., & McNicholas, W. T. (2011). Hypoxemia in patients with COPD: cause, effects, and disease progression. International Journal of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease6, 199–208.

[3] Katsenos, Stamatis and Constantopoulos, Stavros, H. Long-Term Oxygen Therapy in COPD: Factors Affecting and Ways of Improving Patient Compliance. Pulmonary Medicine. 2011.

By Deborah Leader RN, BSN, PHN


8 thoughts on “Safe Oxygen Levels: What Should My Oxygen Level Be?”

  1. Albert Newton says:

    I have c o p d and at the moment my stats are 85-90 and I can't move phlegm and muccus from my lungs will oxygen therapy help me get some sleep

  2. Mahaley Davis says:

    Very good information. When you use supplemental oxygen, it dictates your life, adding extra time to be mobile. If your pulse oximetry is 89% after exertion, you might decide to perform the chore without an oxygen supplement. However, your words caution that continued behavior such as this is harmful, in simple words that a hurried physican sometimes doesn't emphasize enough.

  3. Wal Rutherford says:

    Why is it that you are only established in Sydney, Australia. I am told that a service is 185 Dollars, Replacement Columns are 247 dollars and the freight is 70 dollars. Bit much for an age pensioner. I have my car serviced for 250 Dollars. Is there any chance of opening in Brisbane in the near future??

    1. Inogen Inogen says:

      Hi Wal, We are a US-based company but we do have a number of distributors in the Australian region. Below is a list of few current distributors that are working in Australia. I hope this helps you in your search:

      1. BOC Homecare:
      163- 171 Hawkesbury Rd, Westmead NSW 2145, Australia

      2. Independent Living Specialists:

      3. Air Liquide Healthcare Australia:


  4. Robert Pescatore says:

    My mother 's blood is turning blue on her fingers and would like to know what she can do to find out what is causing the blood to turn blue.

    1. Inogen Inogen says:

      Hi Robert, What you’re describing could be caused by a variety of conditions. One possible condition is cyanosis, where lack of oxygen causes a bluish discoloration of the skin, nail beds and/or mucous membranes. Although blood may appear blue, it is not turning blue. We recommend contacting your primary care doctor so that he or she can do a full examination.

  5. Bonnie Brumfield says:

    I have emphysema, I play golf, I get tired, pain in my gut
    And then vomit. Why am I vomiting. I can do this shopping, and taking a shower? What gives with this.

    1. Inogen Inogen says:

      Hi Bonnie, Vomiting can be caused by a variety of reasons – something as simple as over-exerting yourself, the side effect of a new medication, or something you ate. Since we are not your primary care doctor, we recommend that you reach out to your primary care doctor so that they can evaluate you.

      Good luck Bonnie! We hope you feel better soon.

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