In a patient with COVID-19, SpO2 levels should stay between 92%-96%. Low oxygen levels that drop below this threshold require medical attention, as it can result in difficulty breathing and other serious complications.
What is SpO2?
SpO2 refers to the total percent saturation of oxygen in the blood and peripheral tissues. When monitoring a person with COVID-19, a small pocket device called a pulse oximeter can be used to measure oxygen saturation at home or in a clinical setting.
The percentage of oxyhemoglobin (oxygen-bound hemoglobin) in the blood is measured as arterial oxygen saturation (SaO2) and venous oxygen saturation (SvO2). Oxygen saturation levels are a critical measure to determine blood oxygen content and delivery.The normal range of SpO2 in adults is between 95%-100%. Less than 90% is considered low oxygen saturation, and the patient may require oxygen supplementation.
What is the importance of SpO2 levels in COVID-19?
- Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS)
- Respiratory failure
- Venous thromboembolism
- Increase in bacterial infections
- Pulmonary fibrosis during recovery post-COVID-19 infection
How to manage low SpO2 levels in COVID-19 patients at home
Changing body positions and practicing relaxation techniques can help relieve mild symptoms. In severe hypoxia cases, the patient should be placed on oxygen support either at home or in a hospital.
Changes in position
- Sleeping in a prone position: Face downward and sleep on your stomach. This has been shown to effectively improve SpO2 levels when they fall under 94%.
- Lying on one side: Lie down on one side with pillows supporting your head and neck with your knees slightly bent.
- Leaning forward while sitting and resting on a table: Lean forward from your waist while sitting at a table, with your head and neck resting on a pillow and your arms resting on the table. This may be done without pillows as well.
- Leaning forward while sitting without a table: Lean forward while sitting in a chair and rest your arms on your lap or the armrests.
- Standing and leaning forward: Lean forward onto a windowsill or other sturdy surface while standing.
- Standing with back support: Lean against a wall with your hands resting by your sides, feet slightly apart, and about 12 inches away from the wall.
- Take long and deep breaths
- Practice meditation
In moderate cases of COVID-19, when SpO2 levels drop and oxygen needs are less than 5 liters per minute, oxygen concentrators can be used. Oxygen support may be necessary to support patients with post-COVID-19 complications.
Minnesota Department of Health. Oxygen Levels, Pulse Oximeters, and COVID-19. https://www.health.state.mn.us/diseases/coronavirus/pulseoximeter.html
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/videos/oxygen-therapy/Basics_of_Oxygen_Monitoring_and_Oxygen_Therapy_Transcript.pdf
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