DETROIT – The most common life-threatening complications from the coronavirus (COVID-19) are related to the lungs, and since all the oxygen in your body comes from the lungs, should everyone have a pulse oximeter at home?
Trust Index: Pulse oximeter
In the hospital, many people are put on monitors called pulse oximeters, which work by painlessly shining a special red light through the pad of your finger or your earlobe and detecting how much can be seen from the other side.
The light is absorbed differently depending on how much oxygen is being carried by the hemoglobin in your blood. The monitor shows a number that represents the percentage of hemoglobin with oxygen.
For most people, the “oxygen saturation” is in the high 90s. When someone develops lung problems, the amount of oxygen in the blood falls, and the oxygen saturation decreases.
Experts noticed early on with COVID-19 that many of the people who would go on to develop severe complications had drops below 90% in their pulse ox number.
Pulse oximeter technology has become so common that it’s now available in small devices that you can buy for use at home. They look like a fat clothes pin that clips to your finger.
Most of them will display at least two numbers: your oxygen saturation and your pulse rate. The fancier models also show a waveform of your pulse.
Does it make sense for you to buy one for your home? If you have COVID-19 and you’re not sick enough to need a hospital admission, it can be a good idea to monitor your oxygen saturations at home. If they are consistently decreasing into the lower 90s, that would be a reason to contact your doctor.
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But if you haven’t been diagnosed with COVID-19, buying a home plus ox is of questionable value. You’re more likely to have other symptoms that would lead you to get tested before your pulse ox became low, and in a generally healthy person, a low reading is probably an error.
Dr. Frank McGeorge is giving the home pulse oximeter a “be careful” on the trust index. The average price is around $30-$50, but some models can cost hundreds of dollars.
Even if your numbers are normal, don’t get a false sense of security. If you feel short of breath or have other issues, you should see a doctor.