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Low Blood Oxygen Levels: Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

Low Blood Oxygen Levels: Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

Low blood oxygen level occurs when the amount of oxygen that circulates in the blood gets deficient. Red blood cells are mainly responsible for carrying oxygen in the blood. They collect the oxygen from the lungs and distribute it all over the body. The body regulates the blood levels so that there are fewer chances of low blood oxygen levels in the body. If there are so, the body starts indicating low blood oxygen levels by showing deteriorating health symptoms. Hence it is vital not to let the body witness low blood oxygen levels. 

Normal oxygen levels vary between 75 millimeters and 100 millimeters of mercury. Below 60 millimeters, it means the person has low blood oxygen levels and requires external oxygen supplementation. This condition of having low levels of oxygen in the body is called Hypoxemia. It is a case of low blood oxygen level or hypoxemia when the blood oxygen levels of a person are compared with the average blood oxygen levels. 

There can be several reasons for low blood oxygen levels in the body. Pneumonia, asthma, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) are a few potential causes of low blood oxygen levels in the body. Hypoxia and Hypoxemia are often confused when it comes to low oxygen levels. Hypoxemia is a condition in which low levels of oxygen are seen in the blood. In contrast, Hypoxia is a situation when the tissues in the body have low levels of oxygen. Both situations may occur at the same time in some cases but not necessarily always. Generally, Hypoxemia may lead to Hypoxia as the inability of blood to get oxygen will ultimately cause tissues difficulty to get oxygen. Hence low blood oxygen levels indicate a serious medical situation and demand urgent medical attention. 

Symptoms of Low Blood Oxygen Levels-

Low blood oxygen levels or Hypoxemia results in abnormal blood circulation and result in the following symptoms-

  • Headache 
  • Shortness of Breath
  • Dizziness
  • Restlessness
  • Chest ache
  • Irregular breathing
  • High blood pressure
  • Lack of coordination among blood organs
  • Sense of euphoria
  • Visual disorders
  • Fast heart rate

Causes of Low Blood Oxygen Levels-

Some apparent causes behind low blood oxygen levels below the normal values can be:

  • Insufficient oxygen in the air.
  • The inability of the lungs to inhale and transmit oxygen to all the body cells and tissues.
  • The inability of the bloodstream to circulate oxygen from the lungs and transport it to the whole body. 

There are also many health conditions and situations that can cause low blood oxygen levels. It is crucial to timely address these causes and to try to avoid them as much as possible. Let us now understand what these medical conditions that cause low blood oxygen levels are-

Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS):

It is a condition when fluid gets filled in the lungs, prohibiting the flow of a decent amount of oxygen in the bloodstream; carbon dioxide takes the place of oxygen instead. This may even cause severe low blood oxygen levels.


Asthma is a commonly seen disease that causes inflammation in the lungs. The inflammation blocks the small airways in the lungs that transfer oxygen from the air into the bloodstream. This causes low blood oxygen levels, which create breathing difficulties for asthma patients.

Congenital Heart Disease or Defects:

It is a medical condition where heart abnormality is present since birth. The problem gives rise to low blood oxygen levels and hampers normal breathing. 

Altitude Sickness:

Altitude sickness is a medical problem faced by people at a high altitude for hiking, climbing, etc. Heights above 8000 meters and above have low oxygen present there. This can cause altitude sickness, which may cause an individual to suffer from low blood oxygen levels. 


It is an infection caused in one or both the lungs by any virus, bacteria, or fungi. The infection then causes inflammation blocking the lungs’ air sacs to get a fair amount of oxygen. This usually causes low blood oxygen levels and breathing issues. 


It is a chronic medical condition in which the airflow in the lungs gets obstructed. Worn-out walls of alveoli and capillaries around in COPD can lead to low blood oxygen levels. 


Anemia is an illness that creates a lack of red blood cells in the blood responsible for carrying oxygen in the bloodstream. Hence anemia can also be a reason for causing low blood oxygen levels. 

Moreover, low blood oxygen levels are symptoms in most cases of respiratory failure. When enough oxygen is not able to pass through the lungs to the blood, respiratory failure occurs.

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How to Diagnose Low Blood Oxygen Levels?

To diagnose low blood oxygen levels or hypoxemia, you have to consult a doctor who has to perform a physical examination. During the physical examination, the doctor will check your heart and lungs. They can also examine the fingernails, lips, or color of your lips.

The doctor may also ask you to go through some additional tests to assess your low blood oxygen levels and breathing issues (which generally occur). 

The tests can include:

  • Checking of the pulse through an oximeter via sensors. 
  • An Arterial blood gas test which includes taking a blood sample from the artery to check blood oxygen levels. 
  • A few Breathing tests, which evaluate breathing with the help of a machine or by your breathing into a tube.

Treatment of Low Blood Oxygen Levels-

The treatment for low blood oxygen levels mainly includes providing the patient with supplemental oxygen. When this treatment is given at home, it is called home oxygen therapy or HOT. Oxygen therapy is also a viable option to treat low blood oxygen levels. This process involves using an oxygen mask or a small tube clipped to the nose so that patient can receive supplemental oxygen. Many devices monitor and regulate HOT, but most of them include medicines and prescribed home treatments by doctors.

People can take some self-care measures to reduce the symptoms of low blood oxygen levels and adopt a healthy lifestyle for a better quality of life. 

For this, people can :

  • Quit smoking.
  • Avoid going to places where they may experience passive smoking.
  • Spend some time daily to be around trees and nature. 
  • Eating a nutritious diet with whole foods, fruits, and vegetables.
  • Do exercise regularly.

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FAQs About Low Oxygen Levels-

Q.1 What Is The Lowest Oxygen Level Before Death?

Ans. Respiratory failure causes low oxygen levels. Low oxygen levels also depend upon the cause of respiratory issues. Generally, 60 mm and below are considered to be low oxygen levels that require urgent oxygen supplements. In some cases, like sudden heart attacks, it may dip to 0 suddenly. 

Q.2 Can Stress Cause Low Oxygen Levels?

Ans. Shallow breathing is a cause of momentary stress. Shortness of breath can lower the oxygen levels in the body. It can be mild to severe, but, yes, stress can cause low blood oxygen levels.

Also See: Tips To Reduce Stress Levels And Anxiety

Q.3 What Is A Dangerously Low Oxygen Level?

Ans. 60 mm and below oxygen levels or saturation below 88%-82% are generally considered dangerously low oxygen levels where supplements may be required. 

Q.4 Can Allergies Cause Low Oxygen Levels?

Ans. Yes. Coughing, sinus, or any environmental allergy can cause shortness of breath that can make oxygen levels dip. 

Q.5 How Do You Know If Your Oxygen Levels Are Low?

Ans. Shortness of breath and inability to breath is the first sign of low oxygen levels. One can check it through a pulse oximeter or consult a doctor who will prescribe suitable tests to check the lack of oxygen in the body. 

Q.6 What Is The Lowest Oxygen Level One Can Live With?

Ans. Normal oxygen levels vary between 75 millimeters and 100 millimeters of mercury. Below 60 millimeters, it means the person has low oxygen levels and requires external oxygen supplementation. An average level of oxygen is usually 95% or higher. Some people with chronic lung disease or medical conditions like sleep apnea can have normal levels of around 90%. The “SpO2” reading on an oximeter shows the percentage of oxygen. If your home SpO2 reading is lower than 95%, you should urgently call your healthcare provider.

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