We all know that oxygen is vital for sustaining life on our planet. Oxygen is everywhere: in the air we breathe, the water we drink and the food we eat. It is also present in our bodies: being inhaled from the ambient air through our lungs, it is carried by our bloodstream, reaching all our cells and ensuring their normal functioning.
If our body doesn’t receive enough oxygen, our life is severely threatened. Oxygen deficiency (partial or total oxygen starvation) can happen on various levels: in the ambient atmosphere (especially in enclosed spaces), in aquatic environments or within our bloodstream, being a consequence of different factors which I will describe later in this article.
Let’s start from atmospheric oxygen deficiency – a severe problem that affects not only our health, but also the ecological balance of our planet. Scientifically, atmospheric oxygen deficiency happens when the oxygen levels in the ambient air drop below 21% (the normal value at sea level). Specialists have reached the conclusion that thousands of years ago, the oxygen levels in the ambient air were much higher than today. As we become more and more deprived of oxygen, various diseases and dysfunctions attack our physical and emotional well-being.
There are different causes of ambient oxygen deficiency.
1. Pollution (in its various forms) is slowly but constantly affecting the quality of the breathing air.
2. Confined spaces, especially in industrial facilities, are prone to oxygen deficiency as a result of various factors: insufficient oxygen supply, toxic gas leakages, bacterial and chemical action and increased oxygen consumption (breathing and combustion from various engines).
For monitoring the oxygen saturation in the ambient air, people working in hazardous environment usually use an oxygen deficiency monitor – a device which measures and displays the percentage of oxygen in the surrounding atmosphere. Whenever the oxygen levels drop below the safe limit, the monitor emits a visual and audible alarm that alerts the workers to leave the area immediately. Proper monitoring of the oxygen saturation in the breathing air can literally save lives, that’s why the use of these oxygen monitors is mandatory in factories, laboratories and industrial facilities where there is an increased risk of oxygen depletion (situations when the oxygen is displaced by another gases, such as nitrogen, methane, carbon monoxide or hydrogen sulfide).
The consequences of ambient oxygen deficiency on our health can be extremely grave: from temporary dizziness and nausea to hypoxia (severe oxygen deficiency) and death by asphyxiation. Let’s see how the human body reacts to various levels of atmospheric oxygen deficiency:
If the normal oxygen concentration in the air decreases only by 1% or 2%, we feel the effects immediately. It becomes difficult to concentrate or work physically and we may experience a slight dizziness and nausea. If the oxygen deficiency in the air is more severe – from 10% to 12% oxygen saturation – new symptoms appear: increased frequency of breathing, blue lips and diminished capacity of judgment. If the oxygen levels drop below 10%, the person loses consciousness. In a 6%-8% oxygen saturation environment, death occurs after 8 minutes of exposure. However, these values are relative and they depend on the physical condition of the individual.
If tragic cases (such a death by asphyxiation) happen mostly in industrial enclosed spaces as a consequence of gas leakages or insufficient oxygen supply, in our day-by day life ambient oxygen deficiency manifests itself differently: since in polluted environments the oxygen levels in the air are only slightly lower than normal, our life is not threatened directly. Breathing a low quality ambient air on a regular basis, however, can have devastating consequences on the long run, being a direct cause of many diseases, including cancer.
Now let’s analyze the particularities of blood oxygen deficiency. If the blood oxygen levels are lower than normal (95%-99% SpO2), our organs and tissue cells are not able to function normally. If a severe oxygen deficiency happens at a tissue level, it is called hypoxia.
Causes of oxygen deficiency in blood:
1. Environmental oxygen deficiency. If there is not enough oxygen in the breathing air (for example, if the person lives in a big city or in another area severely affected by pollution), how can our lungs transfer enough oxygen to our bloodstream?
2. Incorrect, shallow breathing. Nowadays, many people have ‘forgotten’ how to breathe correctly. Instead of taking full, deep breaths which activate the full capacity of their lungs, they take shallow breaths which cannot supply the body with the necessary amounts of oxygen.
3. Incorrect lifestyle. Our modern way of life involves spending many hours per day indoors, in front of a computer. As a result, our body does not receive enough oxygen. Lack of exercise is another cause – physical effort contributes to better oxygen assimilation.
4. Weak or obstructed blood flow. If the blood cannot circulate normally because the blood vessels are too narrow or clogged, the blood is not able to distribute its load of oxygen to all the cells in our body.
5. Pulmonary dysfunctions. If a person suffers from asthma, pneumonia, emphysema or another pulmonary disease, his/her lung functions are restricted, which naturally leads to blood oxygen deficiency.
6. Cardiac dysfunctions are also a cause of oxygen deficiency. If the heart muscle is weak, it is not able to pump the blood with the needed strength: reduced blood circulation equals low oxygen supply.
7. Toxic, physical or emotional stress. In a difficult situation (toxic environment, emotional or physical suffering) the body uses its oxygen reserves faster than usual.
For monitoring the blood oxygen saturation, patients suffering from pulmonary or cardiac diseases, athletes and people working in dangerous environments can use a blood oxygen monitor or a pulse oximeter. This device is easy user-friendly, compact, transportable, non-invasive and reliable, offering instant SpO2 readings whenever necessary.
Consequences of blood oxygen deficiency:
Pulmonary and cardiac diseases can be a direct cause of hypoxia. However, they can also be a result of oxygen deficiency; it has been proven that heart attacks are a direct consequence of inadequate oxygen supply to the heart muscle.
Beware of the following symptoms of oxygen deficiency: overall body weakness, dizziness, irritability, depression, fatigue, poor blood circulation, poor digestion, acid stomach, low immunity, frequent bacterial, viral and parasitic infections, bronchial problems and tumors.
These symptoms are important warning signs used by our body to tell us that we need more oxygen and that we have to change our lifestyle in order to be able to assimilate it. If we disregard these signs, our condition will gradually worsen until a serious disease will emerge. Since we cannot get rid of the body waste and all the accumulated toxins without sufficient amounts of oxygen, its deficiency is the catalyst for a constantly increasing number of diseases.
We cannot restore the ambient oxygen levels to normal or, at least, we cannot do it all by ourselves. But we can surely make an effort to lead a healthier lifestyle and increase our oxygen deficiency awareness: monitoring our oxygen levels on a regular basis will not make us healthier, but it will surely save us from many dangerous situations. Oxygen monitors, oxygen therapy machines and other products of modern technology cannot be the equivalent of a balanced, oxygenated atmosphere, but they can improve the quality of our life and offer relief from many oxygen deficiency related conditions.