Why is happy hypoxia scary in COVID-19 a silent threat to youngsters?

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Due to its unpredictable nature, COVID-19 has not just thrown our lives off-track -it has also instilled fear among people. Initially, when the virus was reported, it was characterized by common symptoms like cold, cough, fever, and loss of taste and smell.

Within time the range of symptoms has increased. This has only exacerbated the confusion and worry amongst the people.

Covid-19 has manifested in several forms one of the main manifestations is happy hypoxia.

So, what exactly is Happy Hypoxia?

Hypoxia is a medical condition where the tissue (especially the brain and other vital organs) doesn’t get enough oxygen and can be the result of hypoxemia, a condition in which the partial pressure of oxygen in arterial blood decreases.

While hypoxia is a warning signal for impending failure of vital body organs like the kidney, brain, heart, and is usually accompanied by prominent breathlessness.

Happy hypoxia refers to the condition in which patients have low oxygen levels within, the oxygen level is rapidly dropping below 80 % but doesn’t prompt any such obvious external signs, they appear to be alright and happy from outside. As a result, they do not get alarmed until the disease progresses to severe lung damage.

Who is mainly affected by happy hypoxia and why?

The young patient often experiences happy hypoxia .who usually have higher immunity can control dropping oxygen levels for long and block symptoms like breathlessness even at saturation below 80% whereas in older people symptoms appear at 92% saturation too. This is a reason that more younger patients seek medical help late and also means more death among youngsters.

What is the reason for the decrease in oxygen levels in covid patients?

The most common reason for the death of people has been the decrease in oxygen levels so let’s have a look into the cause of a decrease in oxygen level.

The primary cause of happy hypoxia is widespread clotting that occurs in the network of small blood vessels in the lungs. This is largely caused by an inflammatory reaction in the body, triggered by Covid-19. The infection causes cellular protein reactions that lead to blood clots, thereby preventing cells and tissues in the lungs from getting enough oxygen supply.

How to identify happy hypoxia in people who are asymptomatic or have only mild symptoms of COVID-19?

As mentioned earlier, it is difficult to recognize happy hypoxia, so you need to keep checking your blood oxygen level at regular intervals

Besides having minor symptoms of COVID-19, such as cough, sore throat, fever, headaches, without any perceivable breathing difficulty, if a person has happy hypoxia, they might experience the color of the lips changes from the natural shade to appear blue, while skin discoloration occurs from the original tone to a red/purple appearance. Persistent sweating even when not performing arduous exercise routines or in a hot surrounding is yet another red signal for low blood oxygen levels. and could be a symptom of happy hypoxia.

The solution to Happy hypoxia

Early diagnosis is the only key

➢   Monitor oxygen level regularly even if you are not having any symptoms.

➢   Most seek medical attention if saturation is below 93%.

➢   The six-minute walk test is also important for the early identification of happy hypoxia.

So, let's have a look at what exactly is 6-minute walk test

Six-Minute Walk Test (6MWT)

This is a simple and effective tool to measure how healthy your lungs and heart are. Six-MWT helps to assess hidden or happy hypoxia which can help in the early identification of high-risk patients.

The principle of the six-minute walk test in COVID-19 is to identify patients who are not hypoxic at rest but become hypoxic on the six-minute walk test.

The test should not be used if;

➢   The patient is hypoxic at rest, that is if the oxygen saturation level is less than 94%.

➢   Not able to walk unassisted.

➢   Severe anemia, heart disease.

How to conduct the test

This is a simple test that you can perform at home and it doesn’t cost you any money. Simply measure your oxygen levels at rest. Then walk for 6 minutes in your room, with the oximeter attached to your finger. Note your oxygen levels during and after this six-min walk test. The six minutes may be cut short for 3 minutes in patients above 60 years of age.

What the test reveals

While doing this test if there is a drop in saturation below 93%, or a drop of more than 3% compared to the initial reading, or feeling unwell (lightheaded, short of breath) while performing the test then it is a positive test.

Patients with a positive 6-minute walk test should immediately talk to their doctor for further medical care or intervention.

The six-minute walk test can be performed at home or hospital.

Isha Dhakal

The author is BNS specialized in oncology.


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