Happy Hypoxia: The 'Silent' Condition Causing Covid-19 to Hit Youth Harder in Second Wave

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India’s second wave of coronavirus pandemic is reportedly affecting its youth more than the elderly population. On Tuesday, the ICMR cited that this could be because they might have begun going out and also because of some variants of SARs-COV-2 prevalent in the country. However, other reports suggest that the younger generation is also taking time to feel the infection in their bodies which in turn is letting the virus spread more rapidly. Similar cases are also being reported across different generations where covid patients are showing a drop in oxygen levels yet they are acting ‘normal’. Doctors say this condition is ‘happy hypoxia’.

Scientists have found a possible explanation for why some COVID-19 patients experience extremely low, otherwise life-threatening levels of oxygen, known as happy hypoxia, but no signs of difficulty in breathing. A study published in The American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine in 2020 stated that the new understanding of the condition, also known as silent hypoxemia, could prevent unnecessary intubation and ventilation in patients during the current and expected second wave of coronavirus.

Speaking to India Today, Dr Rajkamal Choudhry, associate professor at the Department of Medicine of the Jawaharlal Nehru Medical College, Bhagalpur in Bihar said that in some covid-19 patients experiencing happy hypoxia, oxygen levels have dropped to 20-30 per cent. He estimated that 30 per cent of India’s covid-19 patients who require hospitalisation have happy hypoxia, which could prove fatal.

Doctors treating covid-19 patients in Delhi-NCR have reported higher cases of happy hypoxia in the youth, which may be the reason for more deaths among the younger generation.

“Most of the younger generation patients do not even realize that their oxygen level is going low, and they continue their normal activities without any intervention. Suddenly the oxygen level drops down,” said Dr Satyendra Nath Mehra, Medical director, Masina Hospital to The Mint.

Besides having the covid-19 symptoms, if a person has happy hypoxia, they might experience ‘change of the colour of lips from natural tone to blue, skin discolouration to red or purple tone or profuse sweating even when not doing arduous physical work could be a symptom of happy hypoxia’, states the India Today report.

Experts, hence, suggest the constant monitoring of the oxygen saturation level with an oximeter to prevent the severity of happy hypoxia.

However, according to a professor at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine in the US, while a pulse oximeter is remarkably accurate when oxygen readings are high, it markedly exaggerates the severity of low levels of oxygen when readings are low. He noted that another factor is how the brain responds to low levels of oxygen. He noted that another factor is how the brain responds to low levels of oxygen.

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