Coronavirus – Disease, Medical Sciences Involved & Preventive Measures

How & why of oxygen therapy

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Epithelial cell

Mains level : Paper 2-Oxygen requirement in covid patients

How Covid-19 leads to shortness of breath?

  • Shortness of breath occurs because of the way Covid-19 affects the patient’s respiratory system.
  • When a person inhales, the tiny air sacs in the lungs — alveoli — expand to capture this oxygen, which is then transferred to blood vessels and transported through the rest of the body.
  • Respiratory epithelial cells line the respiratory tract.
  • Their primary function is to protect the airway tract from pathogens and infections, and also facilitate gas exchange.
  • And the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus can infect these epithelial cells.
  • To fight such infection, the body’s immune system releases cells that trigger inflammation.
  • When this inflammatory immune response continues, it impedes the regular transfer of oxygen in the lungs.
  • Simultaneously, fluids too build up.
  • Both these factors combined make it difficult to breathe.
  •  Low levels of oxygen triggered by Covid-19 are inflammatory markers, which include elevated white blood cell counts and neutrophil counts.

Does a patient always show Covid symptoms when their oxygen levels drop?

  • No.
  • According to the FAQs on Covid-19 from AIIMS e-ICUS, sudden deaths have been reported at presentation to the emergency department, as well as in hospital.
  • AIIMS has said that the reasons that have been proposed include a sudden cardiac event, preceding “silent hypoxia” that went unnoticed, or due to a thrombotic complication such as pulmonary thromboembolism.
  • In silent hypoxia, patients have extremely low blood oxygen levels, yet do not show signs of breathlessness.
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