Anchor lead: People with COVID-19 infection may have low oxygen levels in their blood yet not seem to struggling to breath, Elizabeth Tracey reports
COVID-19 infection sometimes results in low oxygen levels in someone’s blood yet they don’t say they are short of breath and may not seek medical attention until levels are very low. Brian Garibaldi, a critical care medicine expert at Johns Hopkins, describes what he’s seen clinically.
Garibaldi: There’s this term that’s risen up called the happy hypoxic. Or the patient who is requiring lots of oxygen but is not working hard to breath. It’s important to go back to physiology to think about what this could mean. There’s a natural spectrum where some people are much more short of breath at lower oxygen levels than others but I also worry that people are missing subtle findings of increased work of breathing. We know that respiratory rate is notoriously measured incorrectly. It’s very easy to miss someone who is breathing 25 times a minute if you don’t pay attention to it. :29
Garibaldi says what is known is that very low oxygen levels are dangerous, so he urges clinicians to pay attention to more subtle signs of breathing difficulty. At Johns Hopkins, I’m Elizabeth Tracey.