The past year has taught us quite a bit about the workings of infectious diseases and our respiratory system. One important clinical parameter that may have been unheard of for many people before COVID-19 is the blood oxygen level. This measurement has been in use for decades and has important clinical implications pertaining to our respiratory function.

What does the blood oxygen level measure?

As its name implies, the blood oxygen level or oxygen saturation of the blood quite literally tells us the amount of oxygen that is present in our blood. This measurement, sometimes called SpO2, is a reflection of the lung’s ability to adequately participate in gas exchange and supply the oxygen our body needs to function properly.

What is the normal blood oxygen level?

The blood oxygen level is stated as a percentage; levels above 95% are considered healthy for most people. Below 90%, you may start to feel symptoms of breathlessness and will typically require medical attention.

How is the blood oxygen level measured?

A device known as the pulse oximeter is able to measure our oxygen saturation. It is a tiny device that uses infrared light refraction to measure how well oxygen is binding to your red blood cells. This small, portable device can be easily clipped on the finger and displays a digital reading of the oxygen saturation levels in blood. It estimates your SpO2 by measuring the percentage of your blood that's carrying oxygen. Some electronic gadgets such as smartwatches are also able to perform this function.

How does COVID-19 affect blood oxygen level?

The COVID-19 virus infects the lungs and, thus, the ability to properly oxygenate blood. When the infection is severe, it may cause a drop in the blood oxygen level. One unique phenomenon that has been reported with COVID-19 infections is a ‘happy hypoxia’. This is when the blood oxygen level falls dangerously low but does not produce symptoms, resulting in delayed medical care, as the patient who is suffering with this disease, until diagnosis, appears happy and alright on the outside.

People who have been infected with the COVID-19 virus should regularly check their blood oxygen levels through a pulse oximeter.

Other diseases that can affect your blood oxygen level

COVID-19 isn’t the only disease that can impact your blood oxygen saturation. In fact, just about any respiratory illness can make your blood oxygen level fall. This includes diseases like asthma, chronic bronchitis, pulmonary fibrosis, cystic fibrosis and even heart failure.

Bottom Line

Keeping tabs on your health at all times is important to get timely treatment. Your blood oxygen level can be an important measurement that can let you and your doctor know of your health when suffering from respiratory illnesses. Get a pulse oximeter today and check your blood oxygen level anytime, anywhere.