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If properly-fitted masks and social distancing became the ‘new’ lingo during Covid-19, so did pulse oximeters. We had barely heard of this device in the past, but the second wave of coronavirus turned the spotlight on them. Believe it or not, every household has pulse oximeters today, and it’s also important. But there’s a right way to use them!
Well, we know you have a lot of valid questions, which is why we asked Dr Praveena NB, Assistant Professor, Department of Paediatrics, Amrita Hospital, Kochi.
Here’s what she tells HealthShots, “A pulse oximeter is a fast and simple way to measure the oxygen level in your blood. Pulse oximeters are used in hospital settings usually for continuous monitoring of blood oxygen levels. With the current Covid-19 pandemic, checking oxygen levels with home pulse oximeters has gained widespread acceptance. Severe Covid-19 can cause pneumonia and lower your blood oxygen levels.”
The Covid-19 infection, in extreme situations, can attack the lungs. Due to inflammation, the air sacs in your lungs can be filled with mucus, debris, and fluid. Also, the normal optimal oxygen saturation (SPo2) level is usually 95 percent or higher. Those with lung conditions like sleep apnea and asthma could have lower SPo2 levels.
“Generally, when the oxygen level goes down, you develop symptoms like breathlessness and bluish discoloration of lips and fingertips. But with Covid-19 infection, there can be “happy hypoxia” where symptoms of low blood oxygen may be absent or minimal in the early stages. Hence, checking your oxygen levels twice a day when you are diagnosed with Covid-19 is advised, especially if you are doing home quarantine. This can help with the detection of this dangerous complication,” adds Dr Praveena NB.
Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to use the pulse oximeter:
1. Turn on the device and slide it over your fingertip, with your nail facing up. It can be used over the earlobes as well.
2. Make sure that your hands are not too cold or avoid wearing dark nail polish, since these things can show a false value in the device.
3. Wait for the consistent waveform on the screen. You can see 2 values; one is your blood oxygen level (SPo2) and the other is your pulse rate (PR).
4. There is no absolute value of SPO2 which determines that a person is healthy. Somebody with no underlying heart or lung condition should have SP02 above 94 percent. Appropriate medical care should be sought if SP02 is consistently below 95 percent. Those with underlying chronic lung conditions like asthma or COPD or heart diseases can have lower SPo2 at baseline.
Dr Praveena NB has a word of caution. She adds, “Over-the-counter pulse oximeters are not regulated by any quality control agencies in our country. Do not rely only on a pulse oximeter to assess your health status. Paying attention to other signs and symptoms and seeking care at the right time is imperative.”