If the saturation drops below 90%, a variety of symptoms may begin to occur such as increased shortness of breath with activity, increased heart work (reflected by an increase in pulse rate), the presence of bluish lips or nail beds, headaches, clumsiness, and confusion.
A sudden drop in your oxygen level—for example during a severe cold or the flu—can be a sign of trouble.
If you are on Long Term Oxygen Therapy, call your doctor if your normal oxygen setting is no longer maintaining your saturation and you feel sick. Also, call your supplier if you feel your oxygen system is not working.
A high resting pulse rate of greater than 100 or a low pulse of less than 40 (check with your doctor to determine your individual pulse ranges) are also reasons to call your doctor.*
During a severe breathing attack, it is possible to have a normal oxygen level. Seek medical help if you have severe shortness of breath, wheezing, or increased pulse rate, even if your oxygen saturation is normal.
*Please be sure to check with your doctor to determine your own pulse rate ranges.
Practice Pursed Lip Breathing
The act of pursed lip breathing, i.e., exhaling slowly against pursed lips as in the act of whistling, is useful to your breathing efficiency in many ways. Pursed lip breathing teaches you to breathe in a deeper, slower fashion. In addition, it helps you to empty your lungs more completely. This is particularly important in emphysema/COPD, where over-inflation of the lungs is a problem.
Some patients like to find out how long their oxygen saturation remains above 90% when their oxygen is turned off. It gives them a feeling of confidence when their oxygen flow is stopped for a short period.*
*Check with your physician before trying this on your own.
After you master pursed lip breathing, try doing this with exercise. Use your oximeter as you walk around the house and later outside and around the block. Try to walk at least 100 yards using pursed lip breathing. Use of a pedometer is helpful here. You will probably find out that pursed lip breathing will relieve your shortness of breath as well as improve your oxygen saturation, both at rest and during exercise.
[TIP: When practicing pursed lip breathing, take a full breath, shape your mouth as though you are whistling, and breathe out slowly to resist the speed of the air leaving your lungs.]
Reduce Shortness of Breath
Overinflation of the lungs puts the breathing muscles at a mechanical disadvantage, adding increased load to the breathing. This is often interpreted as an increased effort to breathe or "dyspnea," which is an unpleasant sensation of breathing. Often patients can reduce their shortness of breath by slow, deep breathing and exhaling. Practice using your oximeter with pursed lip breathing, using two or three seconds to breathe in, and four, five or six seconds to exhale. Find a comfortable breathing rate and pattern and watch your oxygen saturation increase at a given oxygen setting. With your doctor's approval, you might also be interested in trying this while breathing room air. Your oxygen saturation while breathing room air will be achieved by stopping your oxygen for 10 to 20 minutes. It takes this long to use up the residual oxygen in your lungs (the amount of air left after you exhale).*
*Please be sure to check with your doctor before trying this without your oxygen.