Oxygen is essential to life. It cannot be stored in the body. The supply of oxygen
must be constant and in sufficient amounts to sustain the life of the body's cells. Body
tissues die when they are deprived of oxygen. Brain cells can be damaged beyond
recovery in three to seven minutes.
HYPOXEMIA AND OXYGEN THERAPY
Normally, the 21 percent concentration of oxygen in inspired room air is
adequate for the body. However, after any severe disturbance of the respiratory or
circulatory system, hypoxemia (low level of oxygen in the blood) can occur. Hypoxemia
can occur at varying levels. If it is severe, it may cause irreversible tissue damage in a
short period of time. Oxygen therapy may be used for acute or chronic conditions that
a. Signs and Symptoms of Hypoxemia. Signs and symptoms of hypoxemia
Increased heart rate (tachycardia).
Increased respiratory rate (tachypnea).
Difficult or labored breathing (dyspnea).
Shortness of breath.
Mental confusion and weakness.
Cyanosis (bluish tint of skin--a late sign).
b. Treatment of Hypoxemia. Hypoxemia is treated by administering extra
oxygen (oxygen therapy). Prolonged oxygen therapy and/or high doses may cause
respiratory complications such as hyperventilation or atelectasis. This is not a major
concern in the pre-hospital environment and oxygen should never be withheld from
anyone, especially in times of respiratory distress. Oxygen is normally supplied from
tanks (also called cylinders and bottles) or from wall outlets (piped-in oxygen).