What are the signs and symptoms of hypoxia?

The medical term hypoxia means low oxygen levels in the blood.

A low level of oxygen in the blood is potentially fatal, so it is very important that the First Aider recognizes the signs and symptoms of this condition and takes immediate action to treat the casualty.

Signs and Symptoms of Hypoxia

  • Pale clammy skin
  • Blue tinges to the skin and lips (cyanosis).
  • Increased pulse rate (tachycardia)
  • Weakening of the pulse
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Increased respiratory rate (caused by oxygen deficiency).
  • Distressed breathing or gasping.
  • Confusion or dizziness.
  • Reducing levels of consciousness.
  • Clues from the cause of the hypoxia (i.e. bleeding, injury, chest pain etc)

Management of Hypoxia

  1. Maintain airway and breathing
  2. Remove or treat the cause of the hypoxia (if possible)
  3. Do not allow the patient to eat, drink or smoke

The body’s response to hypoxia

If the body detects low levels of oxygen in the blood adrenaline/epinephrine is released. The effect of
adrenaline on the body is to:

  • Increase the heart rate.
  • Increase the strength of the heart beat (and blood pressure).
  • Divert blood away from the skin. Intestines and stomach.
  • Divert blood towards the heart, lungs, and brain.
  • Dilate the air passages in the lungs (bronchioles).


John Furst

JOHN FURST is an experienced emergency medical technician and qualified first aid & CPR instructor. John is passionate about first aid and believes everyone should have the skills and confidence to take action in an emergency situation.

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