Introduction: Silent hypoxia is an entity that has been described in patients diagnosed with COVID-19. It is typically described as objective hypoxia in the absence of proportional respiratory distress. The physiological basis for this phenomenon is controversial, and its prognostic value is unclear. We present a case below, of a 66-year-old female presenting with severe hypoxia that was managed without mechanical ventilation.
Presentation of case: A 66 year old female with multiple comorbidities initially presented with a cough, fever and an oxygen saturation of 70% on room air in the absence of respiratory distress or altered mentation. She subsequently tested positive for COVID-19 and was admitted to the intensive care unit; received oxygen via high flow nasal cannula and continuous positive pressure mask. The patient remained in the intensive care unit for 40 days under close observation and exhibited multiple episodes of silent hypoxia on weaning oxygen. She was discharged on room air with an oxygen saturation >90% after 56 days. The patient was not intubated during her stay.
Discussion and conclusion: Clinicians face a clinical dilemma on whether to intubate a "silently hypoxemic" patient, who displays hypoxia out of proportion to clinical examination. The decision is confounded by a lack of clear evidence on whether the benefits of precautionary intubation outweighs the risks, especially in the current COVID-19 pandemic. A recent paradigm shift that recommends delaying intubation further displays the need for clearer analysis of the situation. Our case demonstrates a favorable outcome of the latter approach, yet emphasizes a case-by-case approach until clearer recommendations are available.
Keywords: COVID-19; Intensive care; Intubation; Silent hypoxia.
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