Children's Hospital Colorado

Oxygen Need

What is oxygen need?

Sometimes, due to an acute illness or a chronic, long-term medical condition, children may have a hard time getting enough oxygen into their bodies. When this happens, it can make children feel uncomfortable, work harder to breathe and may cause problems with their hearts because it must work harder than normal to move blood around the body. To relieve this, a doctor may suggest oxygen therapy for a child.

What causes oxygen need?

Many chronic conditions can cause children to need additional oxygen, including bronchopulmonary dysplasia, cystic fibrosis, tracheostomies, interstitial lung diseases, and congenital heart disease. Respiratory infections like colds, pneumonia, and bronchiolitis, as well as going to higher altitudes (especially above 8,000 feet) can also cause a child to need oxygen.

Who needs oxygen?

Any child may need additional oxygen, especially when sick with a respiratory infection. Children with other chronic respiratory conditions, such as bronchopulmonary dysplasia, and very young infants or babies born prematurely or at low birth weight are more likely to need oxygen.

What are the signs and symptoms of low oxygen levels?

  • Increased work and effort to breathe (sucking in at the neck, ribs, or stomach; use of stomach muscles to breathe out)
  • Increased heart rate
  • Increased breathing rate
  • Changes in the amount or frequency of feedings, or loss of appetite
  • Changes in color: pale spells, duskiness or blueness in and around the lips, gums, tongue and nailbeds

What tests are used to diagnose oxygen need?

The amount of oxygen your child needs is determined by a test called pulse oximetry. During this test, a lighted probe is attached to your child’s finger or toe to measure oxygen content. The device looks like a finger puppet, and is painless. The flow of oxygen that your child receives is measured in liters per minute (lpm). Sometimes an x-ray will be performed to see if there is a respiratory illness such as a pneumonia which is causing a low oxygen level.

How do providers at Children’s Hospital Colorado make a diagnosis?

Your child’s health care provider will diagnose oxygen need based on a physical exam, your child’s symptoms and the results of a pulse oximetry test. Other tests, including an x-ray or tests for an infection, may be needed to determine the cause of your child’s low oxygen level.

How is oxygen need treated?

An infant receives oxygen in the Breathing Institute

When your child has a low oxygen level, your health care provider may prescribe additional oxygen as treatment. Oxygen can be delivered in different ways, based on your child’s age, health and dose of oxygen needed. The additional oxygen can make your child more comfortable and decrease the effort he or she uses to breathe. How much oxygen is prescribed and how long your child needs additional oxygen will depend on the cause of your child’s low oxygen levels.

Why choose Children’s Hospital Colorado for your child’s oxygen need?

Children's Hospital Colorado Breathing Institute's mission is to provide comprehensive clinical care and consultation for children with common and complex breathing problems.
As a regional care center, Children's Colorado Breathing Institute provides professional education and advancement of knowledge through research. Our doctors are responsible for discoveries in pulmonary medicine including the first use of inhaled nitric oxide (iNO) to treat premature infants with respiratory failure.

The latest in diagnostic testing is available for both infants and older children, and an experienced staff of pediatric specialists including physicians, nurses, dietitians, social workers and respiratory therapists allows families to benefit from a team approach to treating breathing disorders. Our collaborative approach to breathing and lung care incorporates and encourages family involvement.


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