What's In This Article
The pulmonary function test includes several ways to rate the ability of your lungs to provide oxygen to your blood, including the oxygen saturation test for lung disease.
The Role of Lung Disease and Oxygen Saturation
One of the most common issues of lung disease is low blood oxygen levels. When you develop lung disease, your lungs are no longer able to take in enough air.
Additionally, many people who have lung disease have improperly functioning air sacs in the lungs, so the oxygen you do take in does not fully absorb into the blood.
The oxygen saturation test is essential to understanding how much oxygen is getting into the bloodstream.
Oxygen and the Lungs
Red blood cells transport oxygen throughout the body. All of your organs, tissues and cells need adequate oxygen, so they can function properly. Simply put, exhaling releases carbon dioxide, and inhaling brings in oxygen.
When the red blood cells arrive at the lungs, they pick up the oxygen from the air sacs. Then, they distribute the oxygen to the body. People with lung disease have trouble getting enough oxygen for the blood to provide to the body, so the result is usually low blood oxygen levels.
Oxygen Saturation Test for Lung Disease
Testing for oxygen saturation is easy. There are two basic ways to test oxygen saturation:
1. Pulse Oximeter
A physician will place a device that looks like a small finger clip over the end of your finger. It is loose fitting and painless. This finger clip is called a pulse oximeter. It will emit a light from one side while the other side absorbs the light and measures the oxygen in your blood.
Pulse oximetry works by analyzing the color of your finger when a light shines through it. The shade of red indicates how oxygen-rich your blood is. Red blood cells appear in different colors whether they are or are not carrying oxygen properly.
2. Arterial Blood Gas Test
A physician will draw blood straight from an artery. Typically, your doctor will draw blood from the radial artery in your wrist although your doctor may decide to draw blood from another artery. The blood is then tested for its oxygen content.
The arterial blood gas test is sometimes preferred because a multitude of additional information can be tested along with the oxygen content. The arterial blood gas test can cause some discomfort when the intravenous needle is inserted, but it is a quick procedure and usually causes minimal discomfort.
Understanding Your Test Results
A healthy person will have a blood oxygen saturation level between 95—100 percent. A high percentage means that nearly all of the red blood cells are carrying oxygen. Percentages below 90 are considered low.
Because lung disease can cause lower oxygen saturation, it’s important to see your doctor regularly even if you’re feeling well. Many people suffering from inefficient lung function will see their oxygen saturation drop below 90 percent.
If the level continues to drop, hypoxemia, or a lack of oxygen, can occur and cause significant problems. Symptoms of hypoxemia include severe shortness of breath, confusion, rapid breathing, coughing and more.
If you suspect hypoxemia, call your doctor or 911 immediately.
How Can I Improve My Oxygen Saturation and Pulmonary Functioning?
Even with a lung disease, your oxygen saturation and pulmonary functioning can improve. Having an oxygen saturation test for lung disease can help you better understand how much oxygen your body has.
Proper exercise, a healthy diet, supplemental oxygen and pulmonary rehabilitation can help. If you smoke, quitting smoking is highly important to improving your lung health.
Christine Kingsley, APRN is the Health and Wellness Director at the Lung Institute where she focuses on providing helpful online resources for people looking for information on various lung diseases, breathing exercises, and healthy lifestyle choices. She advocates for holistic care that involves working with your doctor to explore all options including traditional and alternative care while focusing on diet and exercise as proactive measures.