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Monday, January 23, 2017

Learnin' the lingo

(Shutterstock image)

If there's one thing I learned being a mom to 3 kids with asthma, is to know oxygen levels. When they were little, my kids were hospitalized 12 times for asthma (2 of those were ICU.) 

In addition to watching for their skin color, fingernails, or lip color to change, I checked their peak flow meter, listened for wheezing, and gave breathing treatments. I also learned how to use an oxygen monitor.

We had a hand held monitor we borrowed from a friend, similar to the photo above. (I just did a quick search online and found that you can buy a finger tip monitor for $20-$40!) Wow! The one we used back in 2000 - 2007 was about the size of a paperback book and cost $800.

Once you have a monitor, how do you know if your oxygen level is low?

"Normal pulse oximeter readings usually range from 95 to 100 percent. Values under 90 percent are considered low."
 When my kids would get REALLY sick, I always pulled out the oxygen monitor. They usually followed a pattern. They would start a cold and their oxygen level would be 94. Then it would steadily drop over the next day or two. Once it hit 90, we would head to the ER, because I knew the hospital would admit my kids and start oxygen and steroid IV's. That would also mean 3 days on the pediatrics floor. (Which was fine - I was more than happy to let the professionals take over!)

When I would get to the ER, I would "speak the lingo" or use the medical language so the doctor would know that I know what I'm talking about. I would let them know:

  • my child had been hospitalized before for asthma
  • all of the asthma medications my child was taking
  • how much my child's peak flow meter level had dropped
  • how often I was giving breathing treatments (and when I gave the last one)
  • we had already started oral steroids, but my child was not breathing better
  • I had an oxygen monitor at home, and what the level was 
I have noticed that some doctors or nurses call it the "sat level" (short for oxygen saturation level), while others call it the "02" level (oxygen level.)

If you are want more info about  "When to go to the ER if your child has asthma." 
 Nemours Hospital has a helpful section on their website.

Recently, I was in the hospital with a family member who had an accident, and I noticed their oxygen level was  VERY low. Remember the quote from Mayo Clinic that says "values under 90 percent are considered low?" Well, this family member had an O2 of 85. And at one point, they would drop to 73.

When the nurse was in the room, I would say that I was worried about my family member's oxygen, that I had been watching it while the nurse was gone, and family member's  O2 level was bouncing between 73 and 85. He said, "It sound like you know what you're talking about." 

I said, "Well.....I am a Certified Asthma Educator (AE-C)! I have asthma, and 3 kids with asthma, and they were hospitalized 12 times when they were little. So I have learned to REALLY watch O2 levels."

Now, you don't have to be a AE-C to know about oxygen levels. You can learn more from  John Hopkins  and your doctor. Work with your doc to learn more about asthma treatment plans, and how to know how sick your child is - and if you need to go to the ER.

Meanwhile, I will keep watching O2 levels anytime a loved one is in the hospital. It makes me REALLY nervous when the levels drop.



  1. I followed this blog called, "Kreed's World." Also a youtube channel. It was about an autistic teenager who had a very rare genetic condition and the nerves in his lungs slowly started to die and his breathing reflex was gone. He O2 sat was in the 40s. He has since passed, but it was interesting following him

    1. Oh wow! Poor kid! What a horrible way to die :(

  2. Also have you heard of lunglaid? I have recently started taking it because singulair was making me depressed. Do you mention that side effect in your articles about singulair? I know everyone is different and not everyone taking singulair gets depressed but still I wish that info was readily available

    1. Yes, I have heard that about Singulair. I found an article online about it.

      It's smart to be aware of side effects - glad you switched!