What Does It Mean to be Oxygen Deprived?

Oxygen – the breath of life. Without it, life as we know it would cease to exist. But what does it mean to be oxygen deprived? And what are the warning signs associated with oxygen deprivation? Let’s explore this further.

Hypoxemia and Hypoxia: Two Conditions Caused by Oxygen Deprivation

When your body is oxygen deprived, you’re at risk for developing hypoxemia (low oxygen levels in the blood) which can further lead to hypoxia (low oxygen levels in the tissues). Oxygen deprivation can cause serious damage to your brain, liver and other organs, just minutes after your symptoms commence.[1]

Signs of Oxygen Deprivation

oxygen deprivation, o2 deprivationSymptoms of oxygen deprivation often vary between person to person. The most common symptoms are listed below: 1

  • Rapid heart rate
  • Confusion
  • Cough
  • Rapid breathing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sweating
  • Wheezing (high pitched whistling sound when breathing)

Causes of Oxygen Deprivation

There are many causes of oxygen deprivation including:1

  • A severe asthma attack
  • Lung damage caused by trauma
  • Lung disease such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema, chronic bronchitis, pneumonia and pulmonary edema (fluid in the lungs)
  • Heart problems
  • Anemia (low red blood cell count; red blood cells carry oxygen to the cells, tissues and organs)
  • Opioid pain medications (Vicodin, OxyContin, morphine, Dilaudid) that can slow your breathing
  • Cyanide poisoning, the deadliest poison known to man

Diagnosis of Oxygen Deprivation

Oxygen deprivation can be diagnosed in two ways:

  1. Pulse oximetry – a non-invasive medical device that attaches to your fingertip can easily estimate your oxygen saturation.
  2. Arterial blood gas (ABG) study – a blood sample is taken from an artery, usually in your wrist, which accurately measures the oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in your blood.

Treatment of Oxygen Deprivation

oxygen deprivation, o2 deprivationWhen you’re oxygen deprived, the most important treatment is getting more oxygen into your body. This can be achieved by initiating supplemental oxygen therapy. Oxygen therapy provides supplemental oxygen to people suffering from health conditions that lower their blood oxygen levels. The amount of time you spend using supplemental oxygen depends upon your individual needs and your doctor’s recommendation. Oxygen therapy has many health benefits, the most important being it increases survival for some patients when used for more than 15 hours a day.[2]

How Inogen Can Help

Inogen is a trusted Nationwide Accredited Homecare provider. We are committed to increasing freedom and independence to oxygen therapy users through our innovative products and services. For more information about obtaining a home or portable oxygen concentrator from Inogen, contact our customer service department at 1-800-370-9038.

Prevention of Oxygen Deprivation

Oxygen deprivation can be managed and prevented with supplemental oxygen therapy as well as the interventions listed below:[3]

  • Raising the head of your bed – promotes effective breathing and proper function of the diaphragm (major muscle involved with breathing), maximizes inhalation and decreases the work of breathing.
  • Practicing breathing exercises and coughing techniquessuch as pursed-lip breathing, diaphragmatic breathing and huff coughing.
  • Ensuring oxygen equipment is set up properly – if already on oxygen therapy, make sure your oxygen concentrator is turned on and set at the proper flow rate as prescribed by your physician. If using a portable oxygen tank, double-check the oxygen level in the tank. Observe the oxygen tubing to make sure it’s not kinked which can obstruct oxygen from flowing through the tubing.
  • Don’t forget medications – bronchodilators effectively relax and widen the air passages and are essential in the management of respiratory diseases. Glucocorticoids, or steroids, relieve swelling and inflammation in the air passages making it easier to breathe. Mucolytics and proper hydration help thin respiratory secretions making them easier to cough up. Pain medications may decrease the metabolic demands on the body thus decreasing the need for more oxygen.
  • Oral suctioning – may be necessary to clear secretions from the mouth and throat which promote effective breathing.
  • Use of airway clearance devicesthere are many airway clearance devices that help clear mucus from the airways thus increasing oxygenation including the Vibralung Acoustical Percussor and High Frequency Chest Wall Oscillation.
  • Frequent rest in between activities – people who are oxygen deprived experience shortness of breath and fatigue. Resting frequently in between activities helps decrease oxygen demands on the body.
  • Reduce anxiety and depression – the two most common co-occurring disorders in patients with COPD. Anxiety leads to long-term shortness of breath and ineffective breathing. Reducing these disorders with breathing exercises, counseling, relaxation techniques and the use of antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications where appropriate can help relieve symptoms.

For more information about being oxygen deprived, talk to your primary care provider.

 [1] WebMD. Hypoxia and Hypoxemia. Last reviewed July 30, 2016.
[2] McDonald, C. F. (2014). Oxygen therapy for COPD. Journal of Thoracic Disease6(11), 1632–1639. http://doi.org/10.3978/j.issn.2072-1439.2014.10.23.
[3] Glynda Rees Doyle and Jodie Anita McCutcheon. Clinical Procedures for Safer Care: Management of Hypoxia. Accessed February 27, 2018.

10 thoughts on “What Does It Mean to be Oxygen Deprived?”

  1. Avatar Terry says:

    Thank you. Excellent explanations. I have COPD and sleep apnea and am happy to confirm that I am being treated well -with all the devices, tests, and meds which you explain. I feel fortnate that my health insurance pays for thee. Some people pay out of pocket and many others cannot afford them.

  2. Avatar Nancy Kratohvil says:

    I've had two past hospital trips for breathing problems, with no diagnosis after many tests. Now I finally got put on oxygen after a surgery, with still no explanation. Then I remembered my mother's visit to our high-altitude Colorado, when she mentioned her trouble breathing because her osteoporosis-shortened spine had cramped the space which the lungs need to expand. Time for more osteoporosis/spine awareness when breathing is a problem! It explains my problem exactly and should be added to the list above to save Medicare hospital money!

    1. Inogen Inogen says:

      Hi Nancy, Thank you for your feedback! We do revise articles and content from time to time and I will bring this up during our next revision.

  3. Avatar Alan Pettigrew says:

    Absolutely, positively go to a SPECIALIST if you have any of these symptoms. I do not recommend you take the diagnosis of a GP.
    My wife was ultimately diagnosed with Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis. And then, only by accident. She was in post op after a surgery and the staff could not bring her blood oxygen level up to normal. They only discharged her when she agreed to use oxygen at home. They recommended she make an appointment with a Pulmonologist, which she did. That's when she was finally diagnosed correctly. Looking back, I believe she was exhibiting symptoms two years before the diagnosis. She died in April of 2018, three and one half years after the diagnosis.

  4. Avatar Janet Donath says:

    I was often short of breath just trying to walk down the hall. Several doctors diagnosed COPD and/or asthma.
    After several years I was finally diagnosed with Pulmonary Hypertension. I am a retired nurse but had never heard that term. Thankfully I am in a great city with good medical sources and I finally go to the right physician.
    I am so thankful for my Inogen. It was not covered by my insurance but it was better for me than another cruise.

  5. Avatar Joyce Betsill says:

    Excellent information! I have sarcoidosis and have been on oxygen for years. Now that I've read this article I see that I am experiencing symptoms relating to oxygen deprivation. I will give this information to my Dr. so he will make the necessary correction to the level of oxygen I am receiving.

  6. Avatar sandra says:

    My Blessings of today have totally been replaced with solutions and results, and gratitude, compared to yesterdays frustrations, fears, and the dreaded unknown.
    Thank you for being there Inogen and thank the others who share their input. It is very helpful.
    The help and support flows from deep rivers of love, thank you all.

  7. Avatar Ellen M. Potvin says:

    I have COPD along with pulmonary fibrosis I'm having a lot of flare ups lately. Also have Sjogrens Syndrome and Sleep apnea also I am anemic. I'm on oxygen right now can't do anything I get out of breath when I do anything . Purchased a oxygen meter when I was out of breath I took it my oxygen level read 66 I was shocked. I know that's low. My Drs. Are taking test to find the cause if it's not getting into my blood stream. Thank you

  8. Avatar JoyceKE@protonmail.com says:

    her oxygen level was 68 as she had it off a bit and what now? It is slowly climbing up and now is at 75 but still. This is my patient and I am her live in care giver.

    1. Inogen Inogen says:

      Hi Joyce,
      Please contact her doctor for medical advice, as this oxygen level is too low.
      I hope this message finds you well and she is doing ok.

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