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%. 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%. 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


48 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

    1. Carol Taffs says:

      I have copd, sats are between 85 -92 am I right in thinking that it should be 90 plus

    2. Cara says:

      Do you ever use mucinex or cough medicine? You know drinking hot water with some fresh sliced ginger is very therapeutic. When my mom was having cough spells I cooked up water and ginger. The coughing stopped. It needs to be fresh.

    3. D.J. Miller says:

      Your oxygen levels are too low. The oxygen level should be in the 90s…When you sleep your oxygen levels drop. When your oxygen levels drop..your body is seeking more oxygen to keep everything going within normal parameters. If you are not on an additional source of should be and definitely talk to your Doctor or Respiratory Therapist. Good Luck!

  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.

    2. Ross Carl Booker says:

      Low oxygen levels, before my mom died she went to the doctors, and he told her that her lips were blue in color, a sign of low oxygen levels in your blood. Get some oxygen supplement soon

  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.

  6. Jay says:

    My ready starts out high at 95 or so but slowly falls to below 85 after 3 or 4 minutes. I have rebound congestion from overuse of over the counter nose spray so if I don't use it I fall low on the readings. What should I do? I do have COPD from smoking form 40 years but have never been to a pulmonary doctor. Is that the one you go to for oxygen? 62 years old on disability social security. Thanks Much.

    1. Inogen Inogen says:

      Hi Jay, People are generally candidates for oxygen therapy when their oxygen saturation levels are at or below 88 percent. You should report your readings to your doctor as soon as possible. Additionally, it would probably be beneficial to see a pulmonary specialist if you's never been to one and have COPD. However both types of doctors-general practitioners and pulmonary specialists- can prescribe oxygen therapy if they determine that you need it.

    2. Cara says:

      I'm not a medical professional but you should get in soon as possible. You can get a ct of your lungs and make sure you don't have hypertension. Do you elevate yourself when sleeping. Also, it sounds like you need oxygen. Or if you have sleep apnea a cpap will do help you at night. Lung openers – Good diet, fresh grapefruit juice, water, special tea, overall taking care.

      1. Caroline says:

        I've read that grapefruit is not good as it interacts with certain medications, particularly antibiotics, possibly steroids too. Check with your doctor before introducing grapefruit to your diet if you are on medication for COPD.

        1. Inogen Inogen says:

          Thank you for this Caroline.

    3. D.J. Miller says:

      Jay in order for you to be diagnosed with COPD you must have had testing by a Respiratory therapist, usually the DR refers you to one for Pulmonary testing…but you may go back to the one who diagnosed you…but do it soon. You need to do some deep slow breathing to get your oxygen moving and an additional source of oxygen.

    4. Shannon says:

      Jay, I had rebound congestion off and on for yrs due to over use of nasal sprays. I was diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension due to sleep apnea 2.5 yrs ago (I also live at 6000+ ft elevator and am over weight which also contributes to it). I ended up in the hospital with multiple organ failure and then was put on supplemental oxygen 7×25 and to use a CPAP when sleeping, which should reverse the pulmonary hypertension. Unfortunately, btwn the rebound congestion and other problems with using the CPAP, I rarely have been able to use it.

      I did get off the nasal sprays 100% and nothing worked for me before, even if something worked for awhile, the next time I had a cold, I would be back using the nasal spray just to be able to breath. I have been off the nasal spray about 3 months now and have even had a cold in btwn and I have not gone back to using them and getting rebound.

      What I did follows, several months ago I was unusually congested and tried to use a neti pot and other saline washes and sprays, which all didn't work well and I ended up even more congested. I finally bought some Sudafed pseudoephedrine, this is not Sudafed PE (phenylephrine). Instead you have to go to the pharmacy counter, ask for it and sign for it, it is a control medication as people can make meth out of it. However it is safe to take and really drains all the congestion out of one's sinuses, taking the prescribed dose, however use caution if you are inclined to have high blood pressure. While using just one dose of the Sudafed phenylephrine, I started to take Flonase regularly. It takes several days for Flonase to really start to work but I didn't even need to take a second dose of Sudafed pseudoephedrine, I just stopped using the Afrid like nasal spray and kept using Flonase.

      Several months later I still have very clear sinuses and even when I did have a cold a few wks back, I just took a dose of Sudafed pseudoephedrine and kept up the Flonase and I could clear my nose with just blowing and hot showers. I hope this will work for you as I know how frustrating it can be to be addicted to nasal spray. I am still using supplemental oxygen to walk around but improved after a year that I didn't need to sitting. However, I am still trying to manage using the CPAP, so that I can recover fully. Pls consider seeing a pulmonologist as family doctors don't even check for oxygen saturation, my family doctor was misdiagnosing me for months and I could have had a heart attack; with the 40 lbs of edema and low oxygen I had before I was diagnosed.

  7. Dee Potter says:

    I have been diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension and COPD by echo and right heart cath. My oxygen sats remain at 98% on room air. I don't have any symptoms yet, but my reading on pulmonary hypertension is 90, so I know problems are ahead. I'm now using my C-pap every night, and my Dr. thinks this will lower the pulmonary hypertension. Will this help the COPD?

    1. Inogen Inogen says:

      Hi Dee, While there is no cure for COPD, the goal of COPD treatment is to slow disease progression, reduce symptoms, prevent COPD flare-ups and improve quality of life. The treatment your doctor has prescribed is customized to your symptoms and medical history. Please continue to work with your doctor as symptoms do change over time, and your doctor will be able to recommend the best treatment for you.

      1. D.J. Miller says:

        This is true and Very good advice…however there are a number of things one can do to help live with COPD. I have COPD and I am a Respiratory Therapist (retired). Breathing exercises are of great importance. Most people who get short of breath are breathing shallowly.You need to breath from the diaphragm. There are classes and literature that will teach you and also the use of breathing Spirometer. They work wonderfully.. NEVER EVER use Oxygen without the advise of a professional and when you ever half to have it. DO NOT change the input without asking first.

        They also have lung surgeries that take the affected part away….a sort of lung reduction (in layman terms) depending where the lung is damaged. so don't lose heart…

        1. Joyce says:

          I do the pursive and also diaphram breathing. What do you mean by breathing Spirometer. I have a 02 that I take my readings. Also, does exercise bike therapy help the breathing … does it help to build it up??? I notice when I do movement with my arms .. I get short of breath … otherwise staying put helps to keep it regular. I do use for activity as changing bed, floor washing, etc.. Thanks for the reply.

  8. Tina says:

    My problem is that when I can't breathe my numbers go up to 126. They don't go down.

  9. John says:

    My cannula bends at the connector base of G4 and causes the warning signal to beep. What can be done to prevent this annoying problem and where can I order another cannula which I do not find on your website?

    1. Inogen Inogen says:

      Hi John, Please call Customer Care at 1-877-466-4364 and discuss this with an advocate. We need more information before we can advise you on your problem.

      Although we do not sell cannulas, if you do need a new one most pharmacies (like Walgreen's, CVS, etc.) carry cannulas.

    2. sara says:

      you can order cannula from amazon just type in oxygen cannula

  10. Linda says:

    My husband's oxygen level was measured in the ER yesterday and it was at 9 mm. We could not convince him to stay in the hospital for more testing or to get more O2 in him. He's cranky, irritable and is in huge denial about the medications prescribed. Can I have him (like Baker Act) court ordered, put him back in the hospital for treatment ?

    1. Inogen Inogen says:

      Hi Linda, We're sorry to hear about your situation. Unfortunately, the Baker Act can only be initiated by judges, law enforcement officials, physicians, or mental health professionals. There must be evidence that the person possibly has a mental illness and is a harm to him/herself or to others. Unless you have power of attorney, you will need to verbally convince your husband to seek treatment.

  11. Cindy Owens says:

    My Mother,Has plumonary fibrosis.Her breathing test show's her at 36% How every her oxygen level is at 98%.At what point will her oxygen start to drop.She want be able to get much oxygen because her lungs can't push it out.The Dr.told us she would only get it when her oxygen start to drop,To help keep her blood oxygenated.

    1. Inogen Inogen says:

      Hi Cindy, It sounds like your mother's lungs are limited in the amount of oxygen they are able to take in and push out. The good news here is it sounds like your mother's lungs are still able to deliver oxygen at a concentrated rate (98%). Your mother likely takes short breaths and feels out of breath often due to the limited amount of oxygen she's able to take in. It's hard to know exactly when your mother will need oxygen therapy, as there are many factors including your mother's age, medical history, and exercise/diet habits. We recommend that you work with her doctor and schedule regular, periodic breathing tests so that you can monitor her lung functionality.

  12. Jane Dilly says:

    I'm on oxygen level 2, have COPD. Can I get too much oxygen if raising level a half while working/exercising. If I forget to put it back on 2 at night, can that give me too much. Can too much oxygen causes shakey feeling all over body? I'm 88 years old, was diagnosed in 2008.

    1. Inogen Inogen says:

      Hi Jane, When adjusting your oxygen levels, you should always consult your doctor first so that he or she can give you proper recommendations. Having too much oxygen in your body can put you at risk for hypercapnia, a condition where there is too much CO2 in the blood. Symptoms of hypercapnia include flushed skin, drowsiness, mild headaches, dizziness, shortness of breath, and exhaustion. If you are concerned that you have been prescribed too much oxygen, please consult with your primary care doctor. He or she will be able to adjust your oxygen prescription and will provide you with recommendations.

  13. Richard Quitliano says:

    What would be nice is if you published a chart showing levels compared to levels of danger (in %) instead of a bunch of stuff about mm Hg and mercury levels. I'm trying to take care of someone with COPD and need to know when to call the nurse!

    1. Inogen Inogen says:

      Hi Richard, Thank you for your suggestion, we will pass it along to our content team for review. For COPD patients, it's important to test oxygen levels regularly using a pulse oximeter. According to the American Thoracic Society, most people need an oxygen saturation level of at least 89% to keep their cells healthy. If you are ever concerned for the COPD patient you are taking care of, we advise you to call a doctor immediately. For more information on pulse oximeters and oxygen saturation, please visit our blog post:

      To purchase a pulse oximeter, please visit:

  14. Sher says:

    I was diagnosed with COPD a year and a half ago. My pulmonologist instructed me to maintain 90 or more on oxygen level 3, 24/7.

    Is it harmful for me to do easy, short tasks (i.e., dog poop removal), 1/2 hour, without the co2? It does drop to 86.

    Although I am thankful for the portable co2, the cannulas do become tiresome after wearing them 24/7.

    Thank you!

    1. Inogen Inogen says:

      Hi Sher, It sounds like your pulmonologist has instructed you to maintain 90 % oxygen saturation and to use oxygen 24/7. Although using a cannula can cause nasal dryness, we recommend that you use your oxygen as instructed by your doctor. To prevent nasal dryness, try a moisturizing product such a saline nasal mist or a nasal gel. For more information on oxygen therapy side effects and tips on how to prevent them, please visit:

  15. Johann says:

    Is Ozone dosage an option to increase the oxygen levels in the bloodstream ?

    1. Inogen Inogen says:

      Hi Johann, Ozone dosage is typically used to clean water so that it is drinkable. Ozone therapy is an alternative medicine treatment that has no credible, peer reviewed evidence to support it. In fact, the FDA has prosecuted and sent several people to jail for presenting themselves as doctors and claiming ozone therapy products will cure various illnesses.

  16. Denise says:

    My name is Denise. I have COPD and I think I am doing good. But today my breathing is different. I just check my out put and it's reading 99/54. what could be going on? I am on co2

    1. Inogen Inogen says:

      Hi Denise, Are you saying that your oxygen output reading said your oxygen concentration is 99% but your oxygen saturation is only 54%? If so, you should try another pulse oximeter. If you still see oxygen saturation levels less than 95% you should contact your doctor immediately as something may be wrong with your oxygen therapy device, your flow setting, or a variety of other factors.

  17. Catie says:

    I have been real sick broncidous (sic) excuse my spelling sorry on my second bout of antibiotics and now also on steroids. What scared me was the look on the nurses face when she took my oxygen levels said it was 86 and her face dropped. Dr never said much when I asked what that meant used some medical term and said you are one sick lil lady and antibiotics and steroids should do the trick. This Dr was at the walk in clinic as my dr is on holidays and I am getting a little worried…. meds have me not sleeping coughing is getting worse and having a hard time breathing, laying down to sleep I wake up gagging for air so needless to say sleep is not my favorite subject right now …. should I be seeking emerg attention?

    1. Inogen Inogen says:

      Hi Catie, We're sorry to hear about your condition and the symptoms you've been experiencing. Hopefully now that the holidays are pretty much over, your primary care doctor is back in the office. You should make an appointment with your primary care doctor as soon as possible so that he or she can diagnosis your symptoms further. If you feel like you are unable to breathe and that it's an emergency between now and your doctor's appointment you should seek emergency attention.

  18. AIT says:

    Really nice information.

  19. Nancy says:

    I was diagnosed with Copd a little over two years ago. I have an oxygen concentrator. My oxygen level goes up and down constantly depending on my level of physical activity. When it drops below 92 I put the cannula on and it goes back up to 96. I often have a fast heart beat over 100 plus. I have been told I should not let my 02 level get too high. What should I do? It makes me worry when sleeping, if it’s gonna get too high.

    1. Inogen Inogen says:

      Hi Nancy, Please consult your primary care doctor. There could be a variety of factors at play here, and your primary care doctor will have a better idea on how to regulate your oxygen saturation.

  20. Nancy Guthrie says:

    I have an Inogen 3 which is heavy to carry as I have back compression fractures and I am 70 and rather weak and fragile. With a doctors referral is it possible to exchange for the new Inogen 4 which is much lighter to carry? I am renting this one from a Medicare.

    1. Inogen Inogen says:

      Hi Nancy, Unfortunately right now the Inogen One G4 is only available through cash purchase. The Inogen One G4 is not available through insurance or Medicare at this time.

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