Hypoxia vs Hypoxemia

July 10, 2020
Janelle Thomas MSN, RN
feature image

As you breathe, your respiratory system carries air through your nose or mouth into your lungs — where the air is separated from its carbon dioxide — and the oxygen gets distributed into your bloodstream where it can reach your cell tissues. The carbon dioxide is exhaled, and the oxygen powers your organs. But, what happens if the respiratory system doesn’t do its function and your bloodstream doesn’t get the oxygen it needs? The result could be hypoxia or hypoxemia. What are these conditions, and how can they impact your health?

What is hypoxia?

Hypoxia is a condition in which the supply of oxygen to your body’s cells and tissues is insufficient for normal function. This can cause your body’s organs to shut down — including the brain, liver, and more. Hypoxia can be caused by a variety of conditions, with the most common including:

  • Severe asthma attack
  • Lung disease — including COPD, emphysema, bronchitis, pneumonia, or pulmonary edema
  • Heart problems
  • Anemia
  • Cyanide poisoning
  • Strong medications that impact breathing

Symptoms of Hypoxia

Identifying symptoms of hypoxia may be difficult because signs can vary from person to person. If you suspect you or your loved one is experiencing hypoxia, you should call 911 immediately. The most common signs include:

  • Changes in the color of the skin — ranging from blue to cherry red
  • Confusion
  • Coughing
  • Fast heart rates
  • Rapid breathing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Slower heart rates
  • Sweating
  • Wheezing

What is hypoxemia?

Hypoxemia is the condition in which your bloodstream doesn’t get the necessary oxygen it needs to distribute to your cells and tissues. This often directly leads to hypoxia. Similar to hypoxia, the cause of hypoxemia can be severe asthma and heart problems, but it can also be caused by something as simple as high altitude. Other common conditions include:

Symptoms of Hypoxemia

Those suffering from hypoxemia will experience the same symptoms as hypoxia. They can vary on the severity of your condition but are often overlooked until you’re also experiencing hypoxia. That’s because hypoxemia can often occur quickly and be more subtle.

Diagnosis & Treatment Options

If you or a loved one are experiencing symptoms of either hypoxia or hypoxemia, you should immediately go to an emergency care center. There, you’ll be stabilized and given oxygen to prevent organs from shutting down. Once stabilized, your doctor can run some physical exams to test the source of your oxygen issues.

If your condition is hypoxia, then your doctor may prescribe you an inhaler or other breathing apparatus to assist you with breathing. You may also be given asthma medications. Your doctor will also suggest some lifestyle changes, including:

If your condition is hypoxemia, further testing may be needed — including pulse oximetry, arterial blood gas testing, and other breathing tests. Once diagnosed, you may need permanent breathing assistance from either breathing tubes or a machine. If less serious, your doctor may simply require lifestyle changes, such as:

  • Quitting smoking
  • Avoiding passive smoking
  • Getting regular exercise

Regardless of the condition, treatments are dependent on the severity of your breathing issues. If your condition is acute, an inhaler, breathing machine, or other assistant devices may be enough to counteract the problem. If your condition is chronic, then you may need oxygen therapy.

Contact Care Options for Kids for Home Health Care

It can be hard to balance your time between work, home, and caring for a child. That’s why our team of skilled professionals at Care Options for Kids are here to help.

Our home care services offer support in the comfort of your home. We refer loving and competent nurses to provide customized care for families — from a few hours a day to around-the-clock supervision. Contact us directly to speak with a home health care professional or request a free in-home assessment. Together we can determine the best plan of action to keep your loved ones happy and healthy.

If you or a loved one are considering Pediatric Home Health Care Services, contact the caring staff at Care Options for Kids. Call today at (888) 592-5855.