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Oxygen is the element that gives us life. All the muscles and organs in our body require oxygen to function properly. When we breathe, our lungs absorb oxygen from the air and transfer it to the blood, which then carries it off to other parts of the body.
The amount of oxygen in our blood at a given time is called oxygen saturation or SpO2. The normal oxygen level in healthy individuals is between 95-100%. An oxygen saturation below 90% indicates impaired lung function and is a cause for concern, requiring emergency medical intervention.
An SpO2 measurement of 95-100% is considered normal for people with healthy lungs. However, for people with chronic lung diseases like COPD, the SpO2 normal range may be lower in the range of 88-92%. The doctor is the best judge in such cases to decide the expected oxygen level.
Lower than normal oxygen in the blood means that your organs won’t get adequate oxygen, leading to loss of function. Lack of enough oxygen in the blood is termed hypoxemia, which is a serious medical condition requiring emergency care. Hypoxemia will eventually lead to hypoxia, which is a lack of adequate oxygen in our body tissues and organs.
Your body shows symptoms of hypoxia if it’s not getting enough oxygen. SpO2 level may drop below 90% in such a case.
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Rapid heartbeat
The hallmark sign of hypoxia is blue discolouration of the skin and nails, which is called cyanosis. This is a sure sign that the oxygen level in the body is low.
The Covid-19 pandemic has made people aware of the pulse oximeter, a handy little tool that can quickly measure blood oxygen levels in a completely non-invasive way. Most households nowadays have a pulse oximeter at hand. The pulse oximeter detects the percentage of oxygen in haemoglobin with the help of infrared light. You simply place the device on your finger and it immediately gives your SpO2 levels.
Cold extremities and nail polish may hamper pulse oximeter readings. It’s best to warm up your hands and remove nail polish for accurate results. For more accurate lab tests to detect the level of oxygen or other gases in the blood, doctors rely on a blood test called the Arterial Blood Gas (ABG) test.
Only people with chronic lung conditions like COPD or asthma require regular monitoring of SpO2 at home. However, if you’d like to keep a pulse oximeter handy in your medical box, you can purchase one and use it in emergencies.
If your blood oxygen levels are slightly low, there are some natural ways you can bring the SpO2 back up by a couple of points. These techniques are also advised by doctors to people with impaired lung function to improve oxygen levels. Be aware, however, that these breathing exercises are not helpful in emergency situations when oxygen levels are dangerously low. A visit to the hospital is your best bet in such a case.
The following breathing exercises can be practised to improve lung function over time.
- Belly Breathing
- Pursed lip breathing
- Aerobic exercise
- Pranayam Yoga: This is a type of yoga that improves breathing and may help in increasing your blood oxygen levels to a certain extent.
Increasing home ventilation, taking a walk in the open, adding houseplants are other ways to improve your oxygen levels.
For plenty of additional guidance on the best breathing exercises and yoga to improve breathing, download the FITPASS app and find the best yoga classes in Chennai, Mumbai, Bangalore and other metro cities. You can also sign up for FITCOACH, where you get workout plans that focus on your specific needs, and if better breathing is your goal, we’ve got you covered with exercise sessions by yoga experts. Find the best exercises and techniques to maintain optimum SpO2 levels.