Low blood oxygen levels and respiratory issues can cause dizziness.

These problems are unrelated to vestibular issues such as BPPV vertigo.

Vestibular problems and non-vestibular problems may co-occur in the same patient, so a comprehensive assessment is important for people with dizziness.

Oxygen Saturation

Oxygen saturation (SaO2) is the amount of oxygen bound to hemoglobin, expressed as a percentage. Therefore, 100% is the highest possible score.

Normal SaO2 is above 95% at rest or with exercise.

Acceptable levels of SaO2 are above 90% for older adults with COPD or pulmonary fibrosis.

Less than 88% is considered abnormal, whether it occurs at rest or with exercise.

Hypoxemia is a condition of abnormally low oxygen levels in the blood.

Hypoxemia can be assessed with a pulse oximeter. It is a potential contributing factor in the relationship between respiratory issues and dizziness.

Patients with hypoxemia may complain of dizziness during or after physical activity, such as walking even short distances.

The dizziness from hypoxemia may resolve with a rest break.

Respiratory Rate

The normal respiratory rate for adults is 12-20 breaths per minute.

The respiratory rate usually increases slightly with age due to decreased elasticity of the lungs and decreased efficiency of gas exchange.

Talk to Your Doctor

Healthcare providers can measure oxygen saturation, count respirations, and listen to a patient’s lungs with a stethoscope.

This can provide healthcare providers with valuable information about respiratory issues and dizziness.

This type of clinical assessment by a healthcare provider may also provide early detection for pneumonia in community-dwelling older adults.


Another contributing factor to respiratory issues and dizziness may be dyspnea.

Chronic respiratory issues and dizziness may also make you feel short of breath during exercise.

This could be caused by pulmonary comorbidities such as COPD, emphysema, and chronic bronchitis, as well as obesity.

This feeling of shortness of breath during exercise is called dyspnea.

How can a PT help?

If you are experiencing respiratory issues and dizziness that is due to low oxygen levels or other breathing problems, your healthcare provider or physical therapist can help.

Physical therapists can instruct patients in tools that monitor exertion and dyspnea, to minimize symptoms of dizziness from exertion.

If you are working with a physical therapist and they find that you have any abnormal cardiopulmonary findings, make sure that this is reported to your primary care provider for a work up.

Your doctor may also prescribe an inhaler or home oxygen if needed, to help with your respiratory issues and dizziness.

They can educate you on proper breathing techniques. You may also learn about proper positioning, energy conservation strategies, and initiating rest breaks when you get to a certain level of exertion.

The non-vestibular causes of dizziness, like respiratory problems, should not be overlooked.


This blog is provided for informational purposes only. The content and any comments by Dr. Kim Bell, DPT are not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. The details of any case mentioned in this post represent a typical patient that Dr. Bell might see and do not describe the circumstances of a specific individual.

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