COVID- 19: A Simple Pulse Oximeter Could Save Your Life

A pulse oximeter, or Pulse Ox, is an electronic device that measures the saturation of oxygen carried in your red blood cells. Pulse oximeters can be attached to your fingers, forehead, nose, foot, ears or toes. At one point over the past couple of (lost) months, the Telluride Medical Center suggested everyone who could should check themselves out with this device. An article by Jordan Davison for EcoWatch confirms why. The piece is titled “Should You Use a Simple Pulse Oximeter to Detect COVID-19 Symptoms?”

Patients who are having trouble breathing from a COVID-19 infection are showing up at the hospital long after a normal pneumonia infection is detected. That trend means more ventilators need to be used and more people are dying from the infection than need to. Lives could be saved if the infections were caught earlier. Now, an emergency doctor says in The New York Times that a simple pulse oximeter could slow down the number of patients needing ventilators and succumbing to the disease.

The opinion piece by Dr. Richard Levitan argues that since many patients have COVID-19 pneumonia but have not complained of breathing problems, they are not aware that something is slowly attacking their lungs. The infection is causing something called “silent hypoxia,” a form of oxygen deprivation that is difficult to detect.

“But when COVID pneumonia first strikes, patients don’t feel short of breath, even as their oxygen levels fall,” Levitan wrote. “And by the time they do, they have alarmingly low oxygen levels and moderate-to-severe pneumonia (as seen on chest X-rays). Normal oxygen saturation for most persons at sea level is 94 percent to 100 percent; COVID pneumonia patients I saw had oxygen saturations as low as 50 percent.”

He says that a simple, over the counter pulse oximeter will detect silent hypoxia. He argues that the simple device is reliable, simple to use — just attach it to a fingertip and turn the machine on — and “could provide an early warning system for the kinds of breathing problems associated with COVID pneumonia…

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  1. […] This week, Dr. Alan talks about what to stockpile at home during the coronavirus outbreak, including a pulse oximeter. […]