Pulse oximeter measures oxygen carrying capacity of blood by measuring the saturation of hemoglobin with oxygen. It fluctuates with the physical activity and your cardiopulmonary health. It’s not always a constant reading and normally also it can vary from individual to individual. The normal value for SpO2 is more than 95%. However, in all circumstances it should remain more than 92%. To find out your regular SpO2 levels, you need to take your SpO2 readings four times a day approximately 6 hours apart for 5 days. This way you can find out your average SpO2 for future reference.
Also, your SpO2 is affected during sports activities or other physical activities. It is also affected by the status of your respiratory health. COPD which includes Chronic bronchitis and Emphysema is the common entity encountered as a cause of low SpO2 in elderly people. Also acute bronchial asthma and influenza cause fall in SpO2. It can also be used in chronic debilitating illnesses like cancer etc for monitoring the general condition of the patient.
One should be aware of these causes but the list is not exhaustive and it should be born in mind that any fall in SpO2 should immediately be reported to your physician for optimisation of ongoing therapy as the devices are meant only for self monitoring purposes and do not replace the arterial blood gas analysis which stands as the gold standard for measuring oxygen and carbon dioxide saturation levels.
Track your SpO2 levels
Wide spread availability of BP instruments and glucometers have made the home monitoring of these parameters a common entity and it helps guiding the treatment. Similarly, now SpO2 level monitoring is also easy. One can keep a track of it along with the date and time, level and kind of physical activities and heart rate. This monitoring can help physician to track the trend of the de-compensation and take the corrective action appropriately.
What are the red flag signs..?
1. A sudden drop in oxygen saturation of blood in an apparently healthy individual. This can happen because of acute infection like flu or severe cold.
2. A fall in SpO2 levels in a previously well optimized patient such as recipient of long term oxygen therapy who no longer able to maintain their regular saturation levels.
3. Sudden onset breathlessness in an otherwise healthy person
4. A high resting heart rate of more than 100 beats per minute ie tachycardia or very low pulse rates (less than 40 beats per minute)
5. Severe breathlessness episodes even if you find your SpO2 levels within normal range.
How to take control of your breath
Pursed lip breathing is an established practice for gaining control over your breath. It allows you to control the rate of exhalation and hence you can control your breath rate even on being out of breath. It also helps in emptying your lungs better and improves your effort tolerance before you feel breathless.
Pursed lip breathing can also be tried during periods of physical activity once patient is comfortable doing it during resting phase. It improves the level of physical activities attainable before running out of breath. It also improves the ventilation pattern and helps reduce the periods of respiratory decompensation and fall in SpO2.
Reduce the spells of breathlessness
Practice of deep breathing exercises can help a great deal to the respiratory patients. Gradual slow inhalation over 2-3 seconds and gradual exhalation over four to five seconds help you regularise your breath pattern. You can find out a rate and a breath pattern for yourself in consultation with your physician. You can also use the pulse oximeter when practicing this which will give a real time estimate of your SpO2 levels.