Maintaining a proper level of oxygen in the body is important to a person's overall health. Oxygen is vital to muscle functions, brain functions and several other areas of the body. If the oxygen saturation is not properly maintained, the body will be adversely affected, and several areas could be damaged including heart muscle. Medical personnel monitor a patient's oxygen level with pulse oximetry.
Normal Oxygen Saturation
A patient is considered to have normal oxygen saturation when the oxygen in the blood supply measures between 97 and 100 per cent. At this level of oxygen saturation, the muscles are receiving the amount of fresh oxygen to remain prepared for activity. There is also a slight reserve of oxygen in the muscles at this saturation level that allows a body to react suddenly if threatened and the fight-or-flight instinct is triggered.
Low Oxygen Saturation
An oxygen saturation level that measures below 97 per cent is considered low. If a patient's saturation drops below 92 per cent, the oxygen in the blood will not have enough pressure to penetrate the walls of the red blood cells. This means that the red blood cells will be oxygen deprived as they enter the muscles and the body starves for oxygen. If low oxygen levels are allowed to continue for too long, organs can be damaged and short-term memory can be lost. A chronic condition of low oxygen levels will result in a loss of eyesight and a weakening of the heart muscle.
High Oxygen Saturation
The alternative problem of low oxygen levels is oxygen levels that are too high. An oxygen saturation of 100 per cent isn't possible when breathing room air, but it is possible if a patient is receiving supplemental oxygen treatment. If a patient is receiving high levels of oxygen for extended periods of time, it can cause adverse affects. Extremely high levels of oxygen saturation of 100 per cent or higher can affect the patient's eyesight and memory. Preemies are especially at risk to high levels of oxygen since their eyes are not fully developed. A condition called retinopathy must be watched for and corrected if it develops, or a preemie may lose his eyesight completely.