Act Like You Know What You’re Talking About…

One thing I learned about taking care of 3 kids with asthma, is to know their oxygen levels! 18 years ago, I wouldn’t have had a clue about what oxygen levels are and how to know if they are high or low. 17 years ago, all 3 kids were diagnosed with asthma and were hospitalized a total of 12 times over the years (2 of those were ICU.) So, we learned about asthma and oxygen levels FAST!

I learned to watch my kids and look for changes in their skin color, fingernails, or lips. I would check their lung capacity with their peak flow meter every morning and night. I listened for wheezing and gave them breathing treatments when they were really sick. I also learned how to use an oxygen monitor.

Oxygen Monitor

Back in 2000, we borrowed an oxygen monitor from a friend. It was the size of a small paperback and cost $800. Now you buy a fingertip monitor for $20-$40 at your local pharmacy! How times change…

So, once you have a monitor, how do you know what your oxygen level should be?

Mayo Clinic says:

“Normal pulse oximeter readings usually range from 95 to 100 percent. Values under 90 percent are considered low.”

I LOVED our oxygen monitor when my kids would get sick because it wasn’t another tool that helped me know how sick they were. They would usually start a cold and their oxygen level would be 94. Over the next day or two, it would steadily drop (as would my heart!) When it dropped to 90, we would bundle them up and drive to the ER. By that time, I had done everything I could at home to care for them and knew I needed more help. I also knew the hospital would admit my child and start oxygen and steroid IV’s for the next 3 days. It was the professionals to the rescue! YES!

We would start out in the ER, and I would try to use medical terms 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
  • my child is taking ” ________________” asthma medications
  • my son is usually 350 on his peak flow but has dropped to 250
  • we are using the nebulizer every 4 hours and his last treatment was 2 hours ago
  • he is not improving with the breathing treatments
  • he is on 60 mg of prednisone, he is day 3 of his treatment, but my child is not improving
  • I have an oxygen monitor at home, and it’s reading 90

It seemed like the doctors would treat me, my child, differently when I knew the “asthma lingo” and they could tell that I was an experienced mom of kids with asthma!

“Sat Level” or “O2 Level”

I noticed that some nurses or doctors say “sat level” (oxygen saturation level), and others call it the “O2” level (oxygen level) I have used both terms.

You may be wondering how to know if you should take your child to the doctor when their asthma flares up?  Nemours Hospital has a helpful section on their website called  “When to go to the ER if your child has asthma.”

Recently, an adult family member had an accident and we were stuck in the ER for 3 hours. I noticed their oxygen level was VERY low. You may remember the Mayo Clinic quote above that says “values under 90 percent are considered low.” Well, this family member had an O2 of 85. And at one point, their level dropped to 73.

I have this thing about watching oxygen monitors. More often than not, my family members have a hard time breathing in the ER, so I like to watch the monitor while the nurse is gone. (Of course, the monitor has an alarm that notifies the nurse if the oxygen level drops). But I like to watch it because it helps me figure out if my family member is getting better on oxygen or still having a tough time.

When the nurse came back, I told him several times over the 3 hours that I was worried about my family member’s O2, that it started at 85 and then dropped to 73. He said, “It sounds like you know what you’re talking about.”

I said, “Well…..I am a Certified Asthma Educator (AE-C)! I have asthma, as do all 3 of my kids – who were hospitalized 12 times when they were little. So I have this thing about watching O2 levels.”

Do you have to be an AE-C to know about oxygen levels? Nope. You can learn more about them by talking to your doctor and reading helpful websites like John Hopkins.

Your doc can help you learn more about asthma treatment plans, how to know how sick your child is – and if/when you need to go to the ER.

Meanwhile, I will keep watching O2 levels when my family members are in the hospital. Every time their oxygen level drops so does my heart. It makes me REALLY nervous.

I tell people that my main goal in life is to keep my kids alive. They laugh. But I am not kidding.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Asthma.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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