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Hypoxia is a condition in which the body or a part of the body is deprived of adequate oxygen supply. Hypoxia can be classified as either generalised, affecting the whole body, or local, affecting a region of the body.

It is said that the body can be in a hypoxic condition after strenuous exercise, but this is quickly resolved on rest without treatment. Generalised Hypoxia also occurs at high altitude because the oxygen levels fall and can then lead to altitude sickness. If this happens, you may need to give supplemental oxygen or move them to a lower altitude.

Hypoxia also occurs in healthy individuals when breathing mixtures of gases with a low oxygen content, this can happen while diving underwater especially when using closed-circuit rebreather systems that control the amount of oxygen in the supplied air. Even with standard SCUBA diving, hypoxia can occur as the depth increases and the partial pressure of the oxygen gets higher. It also happens where there has been a contamination of the air supply when air tanks are filled, causing a drop in available oxygen. This, added to the affect of the contamination, can cause serious problems or death.

People can become hypoxic in many conditions including heart attacks, shock, asthma, poisoning, drowning and cardiac arrest. Hypoxia can result also from self-harming like drug overdose and strangulation.

A mild and non-damaging intermittent hypoxia is sometimes used intentionally during altitude training to develop an athletic performance adaptation at both the systemic and cellular level.

The symptoms of generalised hypoxia depend on its severity and acceleration of onset.

In the case of altitude sickness, where hypoxia develops gradually, the symptoms include light-headedness, tiredness, numbness, tingling in extremities and nausea. In severe hypoxia, or hypoxia of a very rapid onset, confusion, disorientation, hallucinations, behavioural change, severe headaches, reduced level of consciousness, breathlessness, pallor skin, tachycardia and pulmonary hypertension eventually leading to the late signs cyanosis, bradycardia and hypotension followed by death can occur.

Local hypoxia is where the problem is in one part of the body. The tissue is not being perfused properly with oxygen and it may feel cold and appear pale. When local Hypoxia is severe, it can result in cyanosis, a blue discolouration of the skin. If hypoxia is very severe, a tissue may eventually gangrene. Pain may also be felt at or around the site.

Hypoxia in first aid can be treated with the use of medical oxygen; the levels can be monitored using a Pulse Oximeter and looking at the signs and symptoms of the patient.