Hypoxia: Definition, Signs & Symptoms [Micro Lecture]

In today’s micro lecture, Australian Paramedical College Hon. Snr. Lecturer Sam Willis discusses Hypoxia; hypo means low, and oxia means oxygen at the tissue level.

In today’s micro lecture, we’re going to talk about the condition of hypoxia. So let’s just start by defining hypoxia. Hypo means low, and oxia means oxygen at the tissue level. Now, there is another type of hypoxia called hypoxemia, which is low levels of oxygen in the blood, hypo meaning low, oxygen is oxia, and emia, in the blood.

So the two terms are generally used interchangeably. They mean slightly different things, but from a paramedic’s perspective, it’s all the same stuff. The way that we measure hypoxia in the ambulance service is in two ways. Number one, your patient looks hypoxic. So how does a patient look hypoxic? So they can be pale. Their skin color will be pale. Their skin might be slightly sweating. Their skin might look a little bit gray. They might also have blue lips. They could have any or all of these, depending on how bad they hypoxia is.

The patient may eventually be confused because if your brain’s not receiving oxygen, then they’re going to be confused. Remembering that your brain needs a constant supply of two things: oxygen and glucose. How else might a patient present with hypoxia? So when you eventually get to putting around, putting on the SpO2 reading, so the saturation probe or oxygen saturation probe onto the finger … The oxygen reading will be below 92%. Now, historically, the oxygen saturation levels used to be between 94 and 98, but then in 2015, the Australian and New Zealand Thoracic Society changed their guidelines for hypoxia to occur below 92 rather than below 94.

So what this means for your patient is that with the old guidelines of 94, if the patient has an oxygen saturation level of 93, they would be indicated for oxygen therapy from you guys as the paramedics. However, in the new guidelines, 93 is fine.

So how else does a patient present with hypoxia? Well, think about it. If your body doesn’t get oxygen, your body will make sure that it introduces compensatory mechanisms to get that oxygen in. So that means the heart will beat faster because you have these senses called chemoreceptors or chemical receptors that detect low levels of oxygen, so your heart will be beating faster. That will then, in turn, lead to breathing faster, to be able to get the oxygen in.

So in this micro section what we’ve covered is hypoxia. We’ve defined it. We’ve recognized key signs of symptoms, which includes pale, sweaty, clammy skin, blue lips. You may also identify it through oxygen saturations. Pre-hospital, it doesn’t have to go any deeper than that, but do also understand that if your patient’s hypoxic, there are going to be signs of shock. And as a paramedic, we can do one of two things to treat hypoxia. Number one, we can give oxygen, and number two, we can help ventilate our patients using bag-valve mask, ventilator, using high-flow oxygen.

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