If you have COPD any other chronic lung condition, you probably know what it means to have a lower than normal blood oxygen level. Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease is just one example, but it means that your lungs' ability to bring in enough oxygen is compromised. The tiny air sacks in your lungs have been damaged, so you can't absorb enough oxygen through these sacks into your bloodstream.
It's important to have a certain level of oxygen, versus a certain level of carbon dioxide in your blood at one time. The carbon dioxide is carried back to your lungs, where it is breathed out when you exhale. The oxygen you breathed in gets delivered to every part of your body, as part of the fuel you need to keep your body working properly.
Your heart and your brain are two of the most important organs in your body, and they use the most oxygen out of any other part of your body. Your brain alone uses over 20% of the oxygen you breathe in. If it doesn't get enough over time, your brain cells will begin to die. If your heart isn't getting enough oxygen over time, you can develop heart disease.
So what is the safe zone for blood oxygen saturation? People who are breathing normal, who have relatively healthy lungs (or asthma that is under control), will have a blood oxygen level of 95% to 100%. Anything between 92% and 88%, is still considered safe and average for someone with moderate to severe COPD. Below 88% becomes dangerous, and when it dips to 84% or below, it's time to go to the hospital. Around 80% and lower is dangerous for your vital organs, so you should be treated right away.
Your blood oxygen level will also go down a little when you are exercising unless your doctor has instructed you to turn your flow setting up while you are exercising, making up for this change. Depending on the model, your oxygen concentrator might also adjust to meet this need for more oxygen while you are physically active.
You can check your blood oxygen level, to make sure you're in the safe zone, with a handheld pulse oximeter. These are easy to use and work just like the ones used in doctor's offices and hospitals. It presses against either side of your fingertip and gives a quick reading through the screen located directly on the pulse oximeter.
There are no big pieces of equipment – just something that is easy to read, and easy to carry around with you. The one we have at American Medical is a little over 2 inches long, and only weighs 2 ounces! You can check your blood oxygen level at any time with your handheld pulse oximeter.
Watch out for these warning signs that your blood oxygen level has gone down. Shortness of breath, fatigue, headaches, and body aches are all signs that your blood oxygen level is lower than it should be. Get it checked with your pulse oximeter, and call your doctor right away.
Information on this page is for reference and educational purposes only. For more information, talk to your doctor or primary care provider.
Page last updated: October 9, 2018