Sleep Apnea, Hypoxia & Hypoxemia: Are These Conditions Linked?

April 27, 2020

Sleep Apnea, Hypoxia & Hypoxemia: Are These Conditions Linked?

Hypoxia and Hypoxemia: What Are These Conditions? 

Hypoxia and hypoxemia are two very serious conditions that affect an individual’s ability to receive enough oxygen within their tissues and red blood cells. While their names are similar, these conditions are very different from each other. 

Sleep-related hypoxemia refers to a medical condition that is characterized by abnormally low oxygen levels in red blood cells. When oxygen saturation levels are below 90%, this is an indication that an individual is suffering from this condition. Many health professionals note that causes for this disorder can range from not receiving enough oxygen during sleep, environmental factors such as high altitudes or smoke and health conditions that affect the lungs such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). 

Hypoxia, on the other hand, is a medical condition where the body’s tissues don’t receive enough oxygen and can often be a result of hypoxemia. This condition causes an oxygen saturation level of below 80%. This disorder can be very serious if left untreated as it can lead to permanent damage to vital organs.  The causes of hypoxia include serious respiratory diseases, severe asthma, anemia and certain pain medications.  


What Are The Most Common Symptoms Of Hypoxia & Hypoxemia?

Now that we know what these conditions are, the next step is learning about how to recognize their signs and symptoms. 

As both hypoxemia and hypoxia refer to conditions that cause oxygen depletion in vital body mechanisms, they have the ability to impact our body’s functioning on numerous levels. Without enough oxygen, the brain, liver and other organs can be damaged within minutes of symptoms starting. 


Feeling Disorientated

Low oxygen saturation levels can lead individuals to feel dizzy, confused and disoriented. The reason for this is that when not enough oxygen is being supplied to various organs including the brain either through red blood cells or tissues, it has the ability to impact normal cognitive functioning. 

For example, if you are experiencing this symptom, it can be normal for you to have any of the following: 

  • Slurred words and abnormal speech
  • Lack of awareness of location or time
  • Sudden changes in emotion
  • Forgetting a task while in the process of completing it 


Shortness Of Breath

As these conditions are often linked to respiratory diseases, shortness of breath is a common side effect of both hypoxia and hypoxemia. This symptom occurs when the individual has either a respiratory obstruction or an illness that prevents an individual from receiving enough oxygen into the lungs. 

Often experiencing shortness of breath is associated with completing a period of exercise. However, this can also happen during periods of rest and during sleep. It can also be linked to a number of causes such as anxiety, congestive heart failure, obesity and hypertension.  


Changes In Heart Rate

Hypoxia and hypoxemia are both known to impact cardiovascular functioning especially when it comes to heart rate. Depending on which one of these conditions you have, you may experience fluctuations in heart rate behaviour.

In most cases, individuals with these medical conditions note an increase in heart rate and blood pressure. Experiencing a racing heart especially during episodes of shortness of breath is normal. For others, they may also notice instances where heart rates slow down to below normal. 



Cyanosis refers to the changes in skin colour, generally to a blue or purplish colour, due to lack of oxygen in the blood. Depending on the severity of your hypoxia or hypoxemia, it is not uncommon for you to experience a bluish tint to the lips, earlobes or even the fingernail beds. It is important that if you begin to notice a dramatic change in skin colour suddenly, that you follow up with a general physician to determine a course of treatment. 


What Influence Does Sleep Apnea Have On These Conditions?

As we have seen, both of these conditions are largely impacted by respiratory diseases. So, is it possible to say that Sleep Apnea could be a leading cause? While we can’t say that it is the defining cause for both hypoxemia and hypoxia, this sleep disorder can certainly influence the development of these medical conditions. 

Sleep Apnea is characterized by the inability to receive enough oxygen while sleeping due to an obstruction in the airway passages. Because of this, there is reason to believe that the lack of oxygen getting to the lungs can have a corresponding impact on blood oxygen levels. Generally, this drop in blood oxygen levels usually corrects itself during waking hours. However, in cases of severe Sleep Apnea that is left untreated, signs point to the fact that it has the potential of influencing the onset of daytime hypoxemia. 

Only those with severe hypoxemia can develop hypoxia and in cases where Sleep Apnea is also being experienced, it may be possible to link these two conditions together. It is important to note that research is still being carried out to fully understand the role that Sleep Apnea plays. 


Treatment Options For Hypoxia & Hypoxemia 

Since both hypoxemia and hypoxia are caused by low blood oxygen levels, the goal of treatment is to raise the amount of oxygen being delivered to the red blood cells and therefore, organ tissues. Oxygen therapy is the most common form of treatment. By providing supplemental oxygen, you have the ability to increase the amount of oxygen being contained in each breath and therefore, reduce symptoms.

This can either be fulfilled by using a full oxygen tank or more commonly with an oxygen concentrator. This machine works by taking outside air and filtering it so that you don’t receive unwanted gases and are left with pure oxygen. 

In cases where the individual is also experiencing Sleep Apnea, CPAP or BiPAP therapy is successful in regulating breathing at night and can be helpful in managing the symptoms of both hypoxemia and hypoxia. However, it is always recommended that you seek advice from a medical professional before you explore whether these are possible treatment options for you. 

Interested in learning about CPAP therapy? Feel free to reach out to our experts who will be more than happy to answer any questions you may have.

Leave a comment

Comments will be approved before showing up.

Sizing Guide For Select CPAP Masks

Select CPAP Masks have sizing guide to help you select a size. 

Click on the mask name below to view, print and measure with their size guide.

Other masks are packaged as fitpacks with all size cushions included and do not have size guides available. 

Nasal Masks

Full Face Masks

Other helpful resources:

How To Select A CPAP Mask – Help Centre - All the help you need...instantly! (

What Size CPAP Mask Do I Buy? – Help Centre - All the help you need...instantly! (