Pulse Oximeter: Hospital to Home


NEW YORK CITY, N.Y. (Ivanhoe Newswire) — Many patients who contract COVID-19 develop pneumonia and in some cases, patients don’t realize they have pneumonia until it’s very hard for them to catch their breath. A small medical device, pulse oximeter, can help patients monitor their oxygen levels at home so they can have an early warning if their lungs aren’t working right.

For Brad Weaver and his 18-year old daughter Emma, COVID-19 means they have to be extra vigilant.

“Emma is special needs, non- verbal, she needs assistance walking and so forth. And so, she’s a high-risk,” Brad shared.

Since Emma can’t tell her dad if she’s not feeling well, Brad takes her temperature under her arm and he uses this to monitor Emma’s blood oxygen levels.

The pulse oximeter can detect even small changes in the way lungs move oxygen to the rest of the body. Emergency medicine physician Richard Levitan volunteered on the COVID front lines helping former colleagues at Bellevue Hospital in New York City. He was shocked when he assessed some patients coming in the ER with COVID symptoms.

(Read Full Interview)

“They had oxygen saturation as low as 50 percent, normal is above 94 percent, and they were talking to us. They were not in shock. They were not lethargic. The thing their body had done, which they didn’t even realize, was in order to accommodate that low oxygen, they were silently breathing faster, and they were doing that for days. Until all of a sudden they developed shortness of breath,” recalled Levitan.

Dr. Levitan recommends using pulse oximeters at home. Especially if patients are high-risk. He says watching for low oxygen levels could help people recognize the early signs of COVID pneumonia.

Levitan explains, “If we could detect the pneumonia earlier, then many, many more patients could avoid ventilators.”

It’s not a cure for COVID, but it gives families, like the Weavers, a little peace of mind.

The pulse oximeters are available over the counter at most drug stores ranging in cost from 40 to about 70 dollars. While the device is most often used on the index finger, some studies have shown accurate readings on the third finger of your dominant hand or the thumb of your dominant hand. Dr. Levitan says while normal is 94 or above, most hospitals won’t release patients who register under 92. So, if levels are that low, it might be a signal your lungs aren’t working efficiently.

Contributors to this news report include: Cyndy McGrath, Executive & Field Producer; Kirk Manson, Videographer; Roque Correa, Editor.

To receive a free weekly e-mail on Medical Breakthroughs from Ivanhoe, sign up at: http://www.ivanhoe.com/ftk





REPORT:       MB #4744

BACKGROUND: Your blood oxygen level is the amount of oxygen currently in your red blood cells. This is closely regulated by our bodies and maintaining a precise balance of oxygen-saturated blood is vital to health. Measures to monitor the levels are typically utilized by patients of chronic health problems such as asthma, heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD. Most commonly, doctors will only check these levels if you are experiencing shortness of breath or chest pain but monitoring your blood oxygen levels can help determine if any treatments are necessary or need to be adjusted.

(Source: See Below)

NEW TECHNOLOGY: A pulse oximeter is a handheld device that clips on to your finger, similar to a chip bag clip, and measures the oxygen levels in your red blood cells. The pulse oximeter sends an infrared light into the capillaries in your finger. It can then measure how much light is reflected off the gasses. Users can then read their SpO2 level that indicates what percentage of blood is saturated. This at-home test only has a two percent error window meaning that the reading could be two percent higher or lower than your actual blood oxygen level. However, even with slightly less accuracy the test is easy to perform and gives a very fast response. There are a few factors to be aware of, dark nail polish or cold extremities can cause an unusually low reading. Also, be sure to test on the proper finger with proper orientation: index finger, third finger, or thumb of your dominant hand with the nail facing up.

(Source: https://www.healthline.com/health/normal-blood-oxygen-level)

COVID-19: Dr. Richard Levitan has noted that while working on the front lines of the COVID-19 response, he would see patients come in with COVID symptoms that had shockingly low levels. A normal reading for a healthy individual is around 95 – 97 percent and the readings he was getting were showing levels in the 50s. It is concerning that the patients’ blood oxygen levels are dropping without showing extreme symptoms and this could be an effect of COVID-19. Monitoring blood oxygen levels is an easy way to ensure that your body is functioning the way it should be. In addition, having an at-home test like the pulse oximeter is one way to calm pandemic anxiety and is something actionable to do to quell the fear. You should also consider testing yourself before you feel symptoms to get an idea of what your baseline level is so that you can better spot a change. Changes could also be due to a non-COVID pulmonary problem that has gone unnoticed. There is no standardization, so which brand to buy is up to consumer discretion. Pulse oximeters are available at most drug and grocery stores as well as wherever household medical supplies are sold. They usually range anywhere from $25 to $100. However, due to the effects of the pandemic, many stores are out of stock and the availability of this device varies widely. If ordered online, it’s also possible that the arrival will be also be delayed due to COVID.

(Source: Richard Levitan, MD, Emergency physician,  https://www.yalemedicine.org/stories/covid-pulse-oximeter/)




If this story or any other Ivanhoe story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at mthomas@ivanhoe.com


Doctor Q and A

Read the entire Doctor Q&A for Richard Levitan, MD, an Emergency Physician

Read the entire Q&A