First of all – what is a pulse oximeter?
Well, a pulse oximeter measures the amount of oxygen in your blood. Technically, it measures the oxygen saturation level or Sp02, which should be between 95% and 99%.1 It’s a small device that usually clips onto your finger and passes light through one side of your finger onto a light detector on the other side. As it passes through your finger, the light hits your blood cells and reacts differently to the cells carrying oxygen, compared to the cells not carrying oxygen.
The characteristics of the light that makes it to the photodetector tells you how much oxygen is in your blood.
It’s useful because it can show whether your heart and lungs are supplying enough oxygen to vital organs – including your brain.2 If you’ve even been in hospital as a patient or a visitor you may have noticed that pulse oximeters are commonly used.
Under certain conditions, oxygen levels can fall, and that can cause serious problems. For example, if you suffer from a condition or disease that affects your lung function, or you have heart disease, that can impact the capacity of your red blood cells to carry enough oxygen.2
Exercise can also affect blood oxygen levels because oxygen is needed to turn food into fuel to keep you going. The harder you exercise, the more oxygen your body needs. That’s why you breathe harder when you exert yourself.3
A pulse oximeter is a great way to monitor the oxygen saturation and pulse rate at home, using a very cost-effective device.
And if you’re a keen athlete looking for another way of measuring your fitness level, you’ll also find a pulse oximeter useful.
However, since the unwelcome arrival of COVID-19, the pulse oximeter may have earned a place alongside the digital thermometer and sanitiser in the home first aid kit.5
Shortness of breath is a symptom of COVID-19, but that may not be an easy thing for the average person to assess.5 In fact, doctors have noticed that some people with COVID-19 develop a condition called ‘silent hypoxia’. (Hypoxia simply means there is not enough oxygen available to maintain normal functions. It can be the result of inadequate supply of oxygen to the tissues either due to low blood supply or low oxygen content in the blood).6
With silent hypoxia, people look and feel comfortable and don’t notice a shortness of breath, but their oxygen levels are dangerously low, and may be associated with COVID-19.
You may find a pulse oximeter a useful device to potentially detect silent hypoxia and seek medical attention.
If you have severe difficulty breathing, call triple zero (000) immediately and tell the call handler and the paramedics on arrival if you have COVID-19.
You can check out the Heart Sure Pulse Oximeter here.