Whenever a disquieting piece of pandemic news appears, it’s important to remember that the virus itself isn’t getting more aggressive our data set is just lengthening.
With any disease—no matter how severe or benign the median cases are, outliers will become more abundant as more populations become affected.
There are currently 3,083,467confirmed COVID-19 cases worldwide; staffed by the critically ill, the mildly impaired, and the asymptomatic.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has shifted focus toward the fatal characteristics linked to SARS-Cov-2 infection because indexing them is the only way physicians can develop supportive countermeasures against them. Up until recently, its pathology demonstrated the same general route in fatal cases.
The novel coronavirus replicates its genetic material into host cells at the cost of their biological programming. Given the most common disease that follows transmission is a respiratory one, the lungs endure the worst of this process.
Over time, inflammation occurs and eventually acute respiratory distress syndrome (a condition defined by inadequate oxygen supply due to fluid buildup in the lungs) sets in. Forty-percent of patients do not survive this phase.
Sadly, a growing number of carriers have exhibited a new potentially fatal presentation of COVID-19 known as silent hypoxia:
“When people are unaware they are deprived of oxygen and yet they are functioning,” explained Dr. Hussein Kiliddar, a pulmonologist and critical care physician at Crozer-Keystone Health System in Pennsylvania, in a media release.
“These people have oxygen readings that normally should be above 92% but now have readings in the 80s. They may be breathing faster, but they only start to be concerned when they find themselves getting tired from the increased effort required to breathe.”
“You can get away with it for a while, but it is impossible to keep up with breathing at 30 to 40 times per minute,” Kiliddare continued,
Healthy individuals take roughly 10 to 12 breaths per minute. Although you could purchase a pulse oximeter for relatively cheap ($50) to assess oxygen saturation levels, most experts only recommend doing so if you have been diagnosed with an aggravating repository illness. The device can miscalculate readings and even when it doesn’t the data itself is not designed to distinguish severity or causality.
However, with or without a device, be sure to be on high-alert if your breathing becomes labored, as many of the COVID-19 patients appearing in these new anecdotal risk assessments reached critically low oxygen levels while exhibiting no other instructive symptoms of the disease or even oxygen deprivation.
For the most part, these cases were successfully treated with a bilevel positive airway pressure machine, which is much less invasive than a traditional ventilator regimen, but symptoms have to be reported as early as possible.
Dr. Jeffrey Moon, medical director for the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania’s emergency department recently treated a patient who’s pulse oxygenation level dropped down to 55%, yet the patient spoke coherently, moved fluidly, and did not occasion dizziness, disorientation or any breathing difficulty.
“People coming in with COVID who are less symptomatic than we would expect given their low oxygen levels.” Moon explained in a statement. “It’s hard to believe what’s in front of you at times. There is this subset of COVID patients where I don’t believe my eyes.”
Oxygen pulse levels and breathing efficiency are not necessarily determinative of each other or health status as ranges considered in regards to the former vary slightly between populations.
“Proper interpretation of pulse oximeter can be quite challenging and people can make the wrong decision if [the readings are] not interpreted correctly,” Dr. Martin Tobin, a critical care physician at Loyola Medical Center in Chicago, told ABC NEWS.
Similarly, certain unhealthy behavioral habits and pre-existing conditions might make it more difficult to notice when lung activity has become strained. These factors include but are not limited to obesity, sedentary lifestyles, poor diet, and dehydration.
Silent hypoxia is appearing in more and more patients but it isn’t novel to respiratory infection.
Decreased lung compliance, which measures our lungs’ ability to push air in and out can decrease in patients with COVID-19 induced pneumonia and ARDS, without immediate indications of the underlying cause.
A virus is not a living organism but a sophisticated one like SARS-Cov-2 molds its behavior after the strengths and weaknesses of its hosts.
“Some of these patients might simply have fairly healthy lungs, and thus have the lung compliance (or elasticity) — so not much resistance in the lungs when a person inhales and exhales — to feel like they are not short on air even as their lungs become less effective at diffusing oxygen into the blood. Others, especially geriatric patients, might have comorbidities that mean they live with low oxygen levels regularly, so they’re used to feeling somewhat lethargic or easily winded, Dr. Astha Chichra, a critical care physician at Yale School of Medicine said of the new phenomenon.
Be sure to stay up to date on critical symptoms of COVID-19 as well as the supportive therapeutics currently on offer to attenuate them.