What Are the Signs of Low Oxygen Levels in the Elderly?

Generally, symptoms of low oxygen in adults are not age-specific and may include shortness of breath, rapid heart rate, rapid breathing, wheezing and coughing, according to MedicineNet. Seniors may sweat or experience weakness and mild confusion. Depending on the cause of low oxygen, the skin may also appear discolored, ranging from blue to red, notes WebMD.

Hypoxemia is a condition that develops when there is a shortage of oxygen in the bloodstream, and it may lead to hypoxia, low oxygen in cell tissues, states WebMD. Both conditions are potentially fatal because they deprive essential organs, such as the brain and liver, of the oxygen they need to function. Lung diseases, such as asthma, bronchitis and COPD, are common causes of low oxygen since the airways are suddenly narrowed or obstructed. People coping with anemia are at risk because they have a low red blood cell count, reducing the amount of oxygen carried through the bloodstream. Strong pain medications, heart disease and cyanide poisoning are also possible triggers.

Cerebral hypoxia is a serious complication that occurs when the brain is deprived of oxygen for too long, leading to impaired communication, confusion, coma or death, MedicineNet notes. Doctors typically identify 94 percent to 99 percent saturation as a healthy oxygen level, and patients need oxygen treatment at a level of 90 percent or lower. Depending on the patient’s needs, doctors treat the underlying health condition and deliver an external supply of oxygen to the body as quickly as possible using devices such as a nasal tube, mask or hyperbaric chamber.