Some Covid-19 patients don't experience shortness of breath, fatigue despite critically low oxygen levels

Doctors say these patients experience other symptoms such as fever, cough, upset stomach, and fatigue. Shortness of breath, another common sign, takes off much later. 


                            Some Covid-19 patients don't experience shortness of breath, fatigue despite critically low oxygen levels
(Getty Images)

The new coronavirus is causing a silent symptom in some coronavirus patients. Without leaving a warning, the oxygen levels in their bodies drop to dangerously low levels.

And yet they stay alert and conscious, hence puzzling doctors. The blood oxygen levels in some patients drop to as low as 50%. Normal levels are between 95% and 100%, and anything below 90% is considered abnormal and patients typically enter a comatose state.

"We are just beginning to recognize that Covid pneumonia initially causes a form of oxygen deprivation we call “silent hypoxia” — “silent” because of its insidious, hard-to-detect nature. This condition describing oxygen-deprived patients is called silent hypoxia," Richard Levitan, who's been an emergency room physician, wrote in The New York Times.

"This is not a new phenomenon. There are other conditions in which patients are extremely low on oxygen but don't feel any sense of suffocation or lack of air," Dr Marc Moss, the division head of Pulmonary Sciences and Critical Care Medicine at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, told Live Science.

Doctors say these patients experience other symptoms such as fever, cough, upset stomach, and fatigue. Shortness of breath, another common sign, takes off much later. 

These patients have experienced some Covid-19 symptoms for two to seven days before they show up at the hospital complaining of sudden chest tightness or an inability to breathe deeply, Levitan told CNN. "Their X-rays looked awful, their oxygen was terrible, and yet they're completely awake, alert on a cell phone, and they all said is they've been somewhat sick for days. And then only recently did they notice either shortness of breath or fatigue or something else. That's what is so fascinating about this disease and also so terrible," he added.

Pulse oximeters can identify Covid pneumonia sooner (Getty Images)

The fact that the patients do not gasp for breath does not mean their road to recovery is easy. They usually end up in hospitals in a critical state. And according to Levitan, silent hypoxia might explain some sudden Covid-19 deaths.

Experts do not understand the condition yet. But they speculate that some people's bodies fight back by speeding up breathing. And people might be unaware of the changes in the body. As a result, they do not seek treatment, and the oxygen levels continue to fall. "This has been taking place for a bit of time. So your body is kind of used to it," critical care pulmonologist Dr. Cedric Rutland, told CNN. He added that the adaptation is similar to how they adapt to breathe in high altitudes.

People can identify Covid pneumonia sooner by turning to an easy-to-use gadget that can be purchased in pharmacies: pulse oximetry. "These small devices turn on with one button and are placed on a fingertip," he wrote. In a few seconds, it reliably detects oxygen levels and heart rate, he added.

"I believe pulse oximetry is incredibly valuable if we were to use it in the window of time that the disease begins to gather strength, which is usually five to 10 days out from when someone is first infected," Levitan told CNN.

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