Asthma and hemoglobinopathy: When is supplemental oxygen required?

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Asthma is the most common reason for referral to the emergency department in childhood. In severe attacks, supplemental O2 is given when oxygen saturation level is <90%. Described herein is the case of a child with persistent low oxygen saturation as measured on pulse oximetry (SpO2) after full clinical recovery from an asthma attack. Simultaneously, PaO2 was normal. A diagnosis of abnormal hemoglobin with decreased oxygen affinity (hemoglobin Seattle) was made on hemoglobin electrophoresis and genetic analysis. To ascertain when supplemental oxygen was needed, an oxygen dissociation curve was plotted using the tonometer technique, and it was found that an SpO2 of 70% is parallel to a PaO2 of 60 mmHg. Plotting an oxygen dissociation curve is a simple reproducible method to determine when supplemental oxygen is required for a child with a hemoglobinopathy.

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