Oxygen Saturation Levels & Effects of Carbon Dioxide

How to Read Your Oxygen Saturation Levels

Every cell in your body requires oxygen to function well, and even a small drop in your body's oxygen levels can affect how you feel and perform. In order to make the most of your long days and late nights, it's important for you to know how to track your oxygen levels and ensure you have all the oxygen you want to feel and perform at your peak.

What is a Good SpO2 Level?

For the vast majority of people, what's considered a "normal" or "healthy" blood oxygen saturation level (SpO2) is between 94 to 99 percent. Exercise, alcohol, flying, commuting, traveling to higher elevations or breathing in polluted air can temporarily lower your body's oxygen levels. If you suspect you have low oxygen levels, there are two primary tests to determine whether or not you might benefit from oxygen supplementation.

(WARNING: Any person with any type of health or medical condition should consult their physician prior to use of Oxygen Plus (O+) products. O+ products are intended for recreational, intermittent use only, not to be used as medical nor life-saving products. See Legal for more information.)

Pulse Oximeter

A pulse oximeter attaches to a user's finger or toe and sends infrared light into the capillaries while measuring how much light is reflected. This noninvasive device is the easiest and most common method of testing SpO2. However, it does not measure carbon dioxide concentration levels, and cheaper units have shown to be less accurate (How a Pulse Oximeter Works). You can purchase the tried and O+ customer-approved iHealth Wireless Pulse Oximeter at the O+ Store.

Arterial Blood Gas Test

This SpO2 test involves a doctor drawing blood directly from an artery in your wrist. While far more invasive, it is also far more accurate and allows doctors to determine the levels of carbon dioxide and other gasses in addition to oxygen. It can also determine the acidity level of your blood (Nail).

CO2, the Bohr Effect and Oximeter Readings

Sometimes low oxygen saturation levels are related to high carbon dioxide levels. This can impact your SpO2 readings in two ways. First, when your body can't adequately dispose of this waste gas or is exposed to high amounts of carbon dioxide, it builds up in the blood and interacts with water to form carbonic acid. Known as the Bohr Effect, this process causes the blood to release its oxygen supply while also increasing blood acidity (Voet et al.).

Second, the presence of carbon monoxide will invalidate pulse oximeter readings altogether. This is because CO2 molecules can attach to a person's hemoglobin and successfully imitate oxygen molecules. A pulse oximeter can't tell the difference between these molecules, meaning you'll receive a combined carbon dioxide/oxygen saturation reading rather than just measuring oxygen (Shippy et al.). In either case, the arterial blood gas test will help determine if carbon dioxide is the cause of your low oxygen levels.

Using Oxygen Plus to Raise SpO2 Levels

Numerous studies have shown the benefits of oxygen supplementation for low saturation levels (Stoller et al). Many people with low SpO2 use regular treatment regimens such as concentrators or hyperbaric oxygen chambers, but for the active, healthy person an unexpected drop is always possible in the face of internal variations (i.e., working out, stress) or environmental changes (i.e., elevation, pollution). For recreational use, Oxygen Plus offers a quick bring-me-back-to-me-again oxygen charge on demand. That's why keeping a portable canister of O+ oxygen in your backpack or pocket may be just the thing you need the next time you're summiting the highest mountain.

Citations

"How a Pulse Oximeter Works." COPD Foundation Blog. COPD Foundation. Web. 4 May 2017.

Kent BD, Mitchell PD, McNicholas WT," Hypoxemia in Patients with COPD: Cause, Effects, and Disease Progression," International Journal of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, 2011 Mar;2011(6):199-208

Nail R. "Blood Gas Test." Healthline. 7 Jan 2016. Web. 4 May 2017.

Shippy MB, Petterson MT, Whitman RA, Shivers CR, "A Clinical Evaluation of the BTI Biox II Ear Oximeter," Respir Care, 1984;29(7):730-5Stoller JK, Panos RJ, Krachman S, Doherty DE, Make B, Long-term Oxygen Treatment Trial Research Group, "Oxygen Therapy for Patients With COPD: Current Evidence and the Long-Term Oxygen Treatment Trial," Chest, 2010 Jul;138(1):179-87

Voet, Donald, Judith G. Voet, and Charlotte W. Pratt. Fundamentals of Biochemistry: Life at the Molecular Level (4th Ed.). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2013. Print.