Healthy Living

What Is Hypoxia? Learn the Causes, Signs and Prevention

What Is Hypoxia? Learn the Causes, Signs and Prevention

Key Takeaways

  • When a part or the whole body is deprived of oxygen and cannot function properly, it is called hypoxia.
  • Conditions like severe asthma attacks, lung diseases, heart problems, etc. are the most common causes of hypoxia.
  • Since hypoxia can affect the whole body or just certain sets of body parts, the symptoms are different for certain types of hypoxia.

Hypoxia is a condition where the whole body or a particular part of the body is deprived of oxygen. The tissues of that region are unable to receive the appropriate oxygen leading to severe effects on various body cells. These body cells are integral in performing several biological processes. Hypoxia is a pathological condition which can occur due to breathing a mixture of gases or being at high altitude. The condition, when identified, is not fatal. However, pre-term birth hypoxia is incredibly dangerous and can be life-threatening. This article will tell you all about the causes, signs, and prevention of hypoxia.

What Is Hypoxia?

When the whole body or some parts of it are not getting adequate oxygen, it leads to a condition known as hypoxia. Hypoxia is more of a pathological condition and is very different from hypoxemia and anoxemia. In hypoxia, the oxygen supply to body parts is insufficient. In hypoxemia, the arterial oxygen supply is very low. In the case of zero arterial oxygen supply, the condition is known as anoxemia. In rare cases, hypoxia leads to a condition where the body becomes completely deprived of oxygen, this is known as anoxia.

What Causes Hypoxia?

Diseases, where the body is unable to receive sufficient oxygen, are a primary cause of hypoxia. Conditions like severe asthma attacks, lung diseases, heart problems, etc. are the most common causes of hypoxia. Apart from that, usage of drugs that hold back breathing and cyanide poisoning are also some of the causes. Severe anaemia, where bone marrow is unable to reproduce enough red blood cells, leads to body organs being deprived of oxygen and thus results in hypoxia.

When a person has a severe asthma attack or flare, their airways become narrow and getting air to the lungs becomes extremely hard. When a person tries coughing, it makes it even harder for the oxygen to flow to your bloodstream as most of it will be used by the lungs themselves. This worsens the symptoms of hypoxia. Other causes of hypoxia include ischemia, which is a condition where the blood flows to a tissue in an insufficient and resultant manner. This type of hypoxia is known as ischemic hypoxia. Apart from this, high altitudes tend to have less oxygen which can also be a cause for hypoxia. One can also get hypoxia from breathing a mixture of gases, or by getting partial oxygen like during scuba diving. This may cause the person to be unconscious for a while as the carbon dioxide in the body remains the same, but the lack of oxygen may lead to hypoxia. In the rarest of its forms, a person can suffer from hypoxia when their hemoglobin chemically oxidizes itself from its iron form to its ferric form in the presence of sodium nitrite. This form, if undetected, can be fatal for the patient.

What Are the Signs of Hypoxia?

Since the hypoxia can affect the whole body or just certain sets of body parts, the symptoms are different for certain types of hypoxia. The general symptoms of hypoxia are as follows:

In the case of local hypoxia, the condition can be severe and the person may feel extreme pain around the area. The color of the skin may change, ranging from blue due to cyanosis to cherry red. In milder forms, the tissue is usually pale and appears cold whereas in severe forms, it can become gangrenous.

How Does Hypoxia Occur?

Hypoxia occurs when the body doesn’t get enough oxygen over an extended period of time. For example, when a person has gone scuba diving, the percentage of the oxygen in the tank itself is very limited. The mixture of gases inhaled for longer durations can lead to a drop of oxygen in the body. The carbon dioxide levels, however, remain reasonable and the person thus suffers from acute hypoxia. Acute hypoxia may cause the individual to fall unconscious while scuba diving or after it. The same thing happens when one goes on higher altitudes where the oxygen is less. The person may suffer from pure hypoxia when the oxygen does not reach the tissues.

High altitudes also possess a risk of carbon monoxide poisoning of the blood where the gas may react with hemoglobin and prevent it from providing sufficient oxygen to the body. This can prove fatal to the affected individual. The individual may collapse as soon as the reaction becomes active and the blood hasn’t received enough oxygen. Many health problems also trigger hypoxia to occur, such as heart problems, lung diseases, and asthma.

How to Prevent Hypoxia?

Since the most common cause of hypoxia is asthma, the people suffering from asthma are advised to keep it in check. All medications need to be taken on time to avoid flares as much as possible. The risk of hypoxia in asthma patients is high. Therefore, it is advised that they come up with an individual action plan with their doctor to avoid hypoxia in the early stages itself. High-altitude diseases can also lead to hypoxia and therefore, the concentration of oxygen in the air must be increased to prevent the same. Oxygen concentrators are thus a great help for this as they increase the amount of oxygen in the air and bring the use of cylinders to a minimum. This reduces the risk of hypoxia by 27 percent.

One should also keep their blood pressure and sugar levels in check to know if it’s low or not. Anemic people should also keep a tab on their hemoglobin to check if the tissues are getting enough oxygen. Carbon monoxide poisoning is also one of the causes for hypoxia. Thus, carbon monoxide detectors are a great help when one is going on high altitudes and the chances of the gas entering their hemoglobin are higher.