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Pulse Oximeter (Advice for Carers)

Can a pulse oximeter be used to detect COVID-19 early?

Monitoring blood oxygen levels can be crucial in identifying COVID-19 at an early stage. The coronavirus enters the body through the respiratory system, causing lung inflammation and pneumonia, which can affect the transfer of oxygen into the bloodstream.

It has been observed that some COVID-19 patients may have significantly low oxygen levels without exhibiting noticeable symptoms, a condition known as "happy hypoxia." This is concerning because these individuals may be more seriously ill than they realize, requiring closer medical attention.

To assess their clinical condition at home, individuals should aim to maintain a consistent blood oxygen saturation (SpO2) reading of 90 to 92% or higher. If the reading consistently falls below this threshold, prompt medical evaluation is necessary.

For individuals with mild COVID-19 symptoms who are self-treating at home, a pulse oximeter can serve as a valuable tool for monitoring oxygen levels and detecting low oxygen levels early.

A pulse oximeter is a small and painless device used to measure blood oxygen levels accurately. It is typically placed on a fingertip or clipped onto the ear lobe, utilizing infrared light refraction to determine the extent of oxygen binding to red blood cells. The device reports oxygen saturation levels using a measurement called peripheral capillary oxygen saturation (SpO2).

Here's how to use the device effectively:

Before using the device:

  1. If applicable, remove nail varnish or false nails and warm your hands if they are cold.

  2. Rest for at least five minutes before taking a reading.

  3. Keep your fingers in a relaxed position and rest your hand on your chest at heart level.

Using the device:

  1. Insert the tip of your middle or index finger into the pulse oximeter, ensuring the fingertip is pressed against the end and the nail is covered. Make sure the device is on. If you don't get a reading within 30 seconds, try a different finger.

  2. It may take some time for the reading to stabilize. Keep the pulse oximeter in place for at least a minute.

  3. Take the reading after a minute or so. If the reading continues to fluctuate and doesn't stabilize, record a middle reading.


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