By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD
Hypoxia is caused by a lack of oxygen in the tissues and organs of the body. The condition is treated by improving oxygenation and increasing the partial pressure of oxygen (pO2) in the blood.
Treatment also depends on the cause of hypoxia and may include correction of cyanide poisoning, methemoglobinemia, anemia or high altitude-induced hypoxia, for example.
Methods of treatment
In the case of high altitude sickness, acclimatization can help restore the partial pressure of oxygen (pO2) to a certain extent but is not sufficient to fully restore it.
Hyperventilating or breathing rapidly allows more oxygen into the lungs but is also not enough to normalize pO2.
One of the most important methods of treating hypoxia is to administer oxygen. This increases the concentration of oxygen being inhaled which increases the partial pressure of oxygen in the blood and corrects hypoxia. Also, in high altitude conditions, oxygen enrichment counteracts the effects of low air pressure and the partial pressure of oxygen in the arterial blood is restored to normal.
Some of the devices for delivering oxygen via inhalation include:
Delivers oxygen at a flow rate of 1 to 6 litres per minute (l/min), at concentrations of 24 to 44%.
Simple oxygen facemask
Delivers oxygen at 6 to 8 l/min, at concentrations of 40 to 60%.
Delivers oxygen at 8 to 15 l/min, at concentrations of 60 to 80%.
Bag valve mask
Delivers oxygen at least 15 l/min, at concentrations of 60 to 90%.
Delivers oxygen at various ranges and at concentrations of 21 to 100%.
Once delivered, the oxygen levels in blood are monitored using pulse oximeters. Arterial blood gas analysis can also give results of exact amounts of oxygen in the arterial blood.
Reviewed by Sally Robertson, BSc
Last Updated: Dec 1, 2013