KEY POINTS

  • New symptom of COVID-19 reported 'Happy hypoxia'
  • Low levels of oxygen cause unconsciousness and could lead to severe consequences like death
  • Oxygen saturation levels below 75%  can be very dangerous

Some COVID-19 patients have reported being experiencing too low oxygen levels that lead to unconsciousness or sometimes even death. Healthcare experts are confused about this new mysterious symptom of COVID-19.

Known as ‘Happy Hypoxia’, this phenomenon has been raising numerous questions about how exactly the virus causing COVID-19 has been attacking the lungs and if there can be a way to effectively treat the patients undergoing it.

The baffling mystery

A healthy individual is expected to have at least 95% of the oxygen saturation level. But doctors are reporting cases with oxygen saturation levels below 50%.

“It’s intriguing to see so many people coming in, quite how hypoxic they are. We’re seeing oxygen saturations that are very low and they’re unaware of that. We wouldn’t usually see this phenomenon in influenza or community-acquired pneumonia. It’s very much more profound and an example of very abnormal physiology going on before our eyes,” the Guardian quoted Dr. Jonathan Bannard-Smith, a consultant in critical care and anesthesia at Manchester Royal Infirmary as saying.

While other lung conditions could lead to severe hypoxia, these patients would normally look extremely ill.

“With pneumonia or a pulmonary embolism, they wouldn’t be sat up in bed talking to you. We just don’t understand it. We don’t know if it’s causing organ damage that we’re not able to detect. We don’t understand if the body’s compensating,” the Guardian quoted Dr. Mike Charlesworth, an anesthetist at Wythenshawe hospital in Manchester as saying.

The doctor personally experienced the issue while he suffered COVID-19 in March. After experiencing cough and fever, he spent 2 days in bed during which he became hypoxic. He also started sending very strange messages on his phone and was feeling delirious. This might have been due to the drop in his oxygen levels. “My wife commented that my lips were very dusky. But I was probably hypoxic and my brain probably wasn’t working very well,” he added.

The other patient, who was admitted at a London hospital felt extremely cold and the doctors found that her oxygen saturation level had reduced to 30%. Her blood sample appeared very dark in color and she was placed on a ventilator. She died a week later.

When oxygen supplies fall, organs including the brain, heart, and other vital organs could be placed at severe risk. Patients tend to lose consciousness when the oxygen saturation drops below 75%.