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The blood in your body delivers oxygen to all of your cells. When you breathe and draw fresh oxygen into your lungs, red blood cells bind with the oxygen and carry it through your bloodstream. On a cellular level, oxygen helps replace cells that wear out, supplies you with energy, supports your immune system, and more. That's why it's important to make sure your blood oxygen level isn't too high or too low. 

You can naturally increase your blood oxygen level or discuss different methods with your doctor to maintain or elevate your blood oxygen level.

How Is Blood Oxygen Level Measured?

You measure blood oxygen, also called oxygen saturation, with a pulse oximeter. It's a small device that clips to your finger (or another part of your body) and determines the ratio of red blood cells that are carrying oxygen to those that are empty.

Checking or monitoring blood oxygen levels is non-invasive and doesn't hurt. There are no known risks or dangers of using a pulse oximeter to measure your blood oxygen level.

A pulse oximeter emits light that passes through your fingernail, skin, tissue, and blood to a sensor on the other side. The device measures how much light passed through without being absorbed by tissue and blood. It then uses that measurement to calculate how much oxygen is in your blood.

What Are Typical Levels of Blood Oxygen?

Your blood oxygen level helps you know how well your lungs, heart, and circulatory system work. A typical blood oxygen level for a healthy person ranges between 95% and 100%. This means that nearly all of the red blood cells are carrying oxygen to your cells and tissues. 

It's normal for people living at higher altitudes or people with some kinds of chronic illness — such as asthma, emphysema, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) — to have lower readings. 

Low oxygen level, also called hypoxemia, is considered a reading between 90% and 92%. A reading this low means you might need supplemental oxygen or that there may be challenges that affect how your lungs function. A result below 90% indicates that you should seek medical attention. 

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Tips to Increase Your Blood Oxygen Level

You can increase the amount of oxygen in your blood naturally. Some ways include:

Open windows or get outside to breathe fresh air. Something as simple as opening your windows or going for a short walk increases the amount of oxygen that your body brings in, which increases overall blood oxygen level. It also has benefits like improved digestion and more energy.

Quit smoking. After only two weeks of being cigarette-free, many people find that both their circulation and overall oxygen levels improve significantly. Lung function can increase by up to 30% in this short time. 

Grow some plants. Houseplants have been shown to help purify the air indoors. They remove carbon dioxide and replenish a room's oxygen levels, making more oxygen available for your body to absorb. 

Practice breathing exercises. Pulmonary rehabilitation experts recommend using simple breathing exercises like pursed-lip breathing and deep belly breathing to open your airways and increase the amount of oxygen in your body.

You can use a pulse oximeter to check your blood oxygen level at home, and use some of these natural approaches to increase your blood oxygen level on your own. 

How Accurate Are Pulse Oximeters?

Pulse oximeters make a useful tool in determining the amount of oxygen in your blood. However, sometimes reading errors happen. Aspects that affect pulse oximeter readings include:

  • Patient movement
  • Some kinds of lighting
  • Skin pigmentation
  • Nail polish
  • Intravenous dyes
  • Exposure to carbon monoxide

If your doctor believes your blood oxygen reading from a pulse oximeter is inaccurate, they may order an arterial blood gas study. This study involves drawing blood out of an artery — usually in your wrist or arm — and measuring the amount of oxygen in the blood in millimeters of mercury (mm Hg). The typical reading ranges between 80 and 100 mm Hg. 

What If My Blood Oxygen Level Is Too Low?

If your blood oxygen level reads low, your doctor may put you on supplemental oxygen. This therapy provides you with higher amounts of oxygen than are in normal room air, and it can help raise your blood oxygen level. It's usually delivered through a nasal cannula (a small plastic hose with prongs that go into your nostrils) or a face mask.

Doctors can give supplemental oxygen to a patient in a short-term context — like in the aftermath of an accident or acute illness — or long-term for people with diagnoses like COPD, pulmonary fibrosis, cystic fibrosis, or sleep apnea. Supplemental oxygen can help you feel better, recover more quickly, and stay active while managing these conditions. 

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on April 21, 2021

Sources

SOURCES:

ACP Hospitalist: "Pulse oximeter a valuable tool, but has limitations."

Air Quality, Atmosphere & Health: "Can houseplants improve indoor air quality by removing CO2 and increasing relative humidity?"

American Lung Association: "Breathing Exercises," "Oxygen Therapy," "Pulse Oximetry."

European Respiratory Journal: "Low oxygen saturation and mortality in an adult population."

Hackensack Meridian Health: "Blood Oxygen Levels: What’s All the Hype About?"

InspiraHealth: "What Happens Inside Your Body When You Stop Smoking."

Journal of Environmental Psychology: "Vitalizing effects of being outdoors and in nature."

Minnesota Department of Health: "Oxygen Levels, Pulse Oximeters, and COVID-19."

UCSF Health: "The Need for Supplemental Oxygen."

U.S. Food and Drug Administration: "Pulse Oximeter Accuracy and Limitations: FDA Safety Communication."

Yale Medicine: "Pulse Oximetry."

© 2020 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

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