3rd May 2020
This little device is starting to gain attention recently in the fight against coronavirus or COVID 19. You might have heard from doctors or health authorities that pulse oximeters may be useful to monitor for COVID 19 symptoms at home. Let’s see what this device is all about and how it is linked to the fight against COVID 19.
What is a Pulse Oximeter?
Pulse Oximeters are small medical devices about the size of a matchbox that you can use at home simply by clipping onto one of your fingertips. After a few seconds, it will indicate your blood oxygen saturation (SpO2) and heart rate. It works by shining light through your skin as you put your finger on the probe. It is recommended not to have any nail polish or gel art when using it.
The pulse oximeter works by using light sensing technology to compare the number of bright red cells (loaded with oxygen) to dark red cells (without oxygen) to calculate your oxygen saturation as a percentage. Therefore, a SpO2 reading of 99% would mean that only 1% of the blood cells in your bloodstream have been depleted of oxygen.
What does it have to do with COVID 19?
Novel Coronavirus attacks the lungs and causes the patients to suffer from a condition known as Pneumonia, resulting in drop in blood oxygen. In severe cases, the blood oxygen may drop to as low as 50%. In healthy individuals, the blood oxygen saturation should range between 95%-100%.
Recently, the pulse oximeter is getting a lot of attention for its potential use to “catch” silent pneumonia. It is possible that someone infected with the novel coronavirus might still be symptom free in the early stages, but their blood oxygen may already be dropping without them experiencing any breathing difficulty. It is hence possible for someone to detect early stages of pneumonia, or silent pneumonia with regular checks using a simple home Pulse oximeter.
If your blood oxygen saturation or SpO2 reading is below 95%, please call your doctor. It is also important to note that having a SpO2 reading less than 95% does not mean necessarily you have contracted COVID 19. It could be related to other respiratory conditions. Hence, do not panic and call your doctor for further advice.
Can I use them at home or must I visit a doctor?
Pulse oximeters are available for public purchase without the need for a doctor’s prescription. They are simple to use at home. Prior to COVID 19 outbreak, it is used as a monitoring tool for people with respiratory or cardiac problems, or those with sleep disorders, such as apnoea or hypopnoea. Some athletes may also use them to measure their oxygen levels while exercising.
Where can I get one and how much is one?
You can visit online stores or pharmacies to get one over the counter. Home use Pulse oximeters are generally quite inexpensive, ranging from S$70 to S$200 from reliable healthcare stores.
For home use, it is good enough to settle for one which can measure an accuracy of SpO2: 70%-100% with +/- 2%. Some may be more expensive if the range of SpO2 measured is wider. For the tech lovers, there are also those which come with Bluetooth function to pair with an App to monitor your progress over time. It is recommended to choose from a reputable healthcare store and call up for more information if you are unsure of the function.
While the use of the Pulse Oximeter is gaining interest in the fight against COVID 19, please take note that you should also watch out for other symptoms, not just purely your blood oxygen saturation. Remember to take your temperature and monitor your overall well-being. Visit a doctor if you are unwell. Take care everyone!
Easmed Pte Ltd