Ever heard of an oximeter? Don’t worry, quite a lot of people didn’t before the pandemic hit.
Along with stockpiling masks and buying hand sanitizers by the litre, people have been stocking up on this portable healthcare device so much that its sales have shot up. This rising popularity has prompted some companies to even think of adding their features to fitness bands.
But what exactly is an oximeter?
Is it really as effective in addressing COVID-19 as people claim it to be?
Keep reading to know why this tiny healthcare device is getting so much attention.
All about the Oximeter
An oximeter or pulse oximeter is a small device that shows a patient’s heart rate and oxygen saturation levels (SpO2). This metric can help determine how well oxygen is being delivered to different parts of the body and the heartbeat pulse as well. The currently available oximeter clips to your fingertips, toe tips, or even earlobe and works by sending two wavelengths through it to measure these parameters.
This device is usually reliable unless there are factors that can affect the journey of the lightwaves. These may include dirty hands, cold temperature, or the patients being under bright light. Earlier, oximeters were used to monitor patients with respiratory ailments like COPD, lung disease, asthma or to monitor patients who’ve recently undergone surgeries.
Remember all those movies?
Most patients who haven’t experienced surgeries or breathing-related issues might not have seen a pulse oximeter up close and personal. But to help you better understand it, this is the clip-like device that is attached to patients and hooked up to a monitor in movies.
The data provided by the oximeter – the Sp02 and heart rate, is used to monitor patients right after surgeries or under sedation. It can also be used to monitor how patients are taking to lung medications, increased activity levels and even to monitor their breathing while sleeping.
Simply put, oximetry is used in any cases that affect the blood oxygen levels – from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease to Anemia.
The expected SpO2 reading is 95% or higher and in cases where it is lower than 92%, it is considered a cause for concern as the patient is in a state of hypoxemia.
What’s hypoxemia got to do with COVID-19?
The viral infection that has all made us housebound and scared – COVID-19 – is essentially a respiratory ailment on steroids. We all know how it is highly contagious and causes severe respiratory distress. And when there are obvious symptoms seen in patients, it’s possible to diagnose and treat them.
But what about patients who don’t show apparent signs of COVID-19?
This is where oximeters come in handy. Even in cases where COVID-19 patients don’t show dry cough, fever, or extreme fatigue, the oxygen levels may be dangerously low. Since this decrease in oxygen levels is gradual, the body tends to adjust to it and not show symptoms. For people who can’t afford to get the recommended PCR test for COVID-19, don’t have access to testing facilities, or just want to stay on the safe side with self-monitoring, oximeters are a godsend.
With the number of COVID-19 cases continuing to spike, oximeters are being considered as makeshift testing devices, especially in remote areas. In fact, there are talks of a political party distributing 30,000 oximeters to smaller villages so that temporary COVID-19 testing centers can be set up.
Also Read: COVID-19 vaccine updates.
But what do experts have to say about it?
While the concept of oximeters and its potential in detecting COVID-19 is appealing, there are questions of its reliability. With the rising sale of the device, there has also been a rising murmur regarding the discrepancy experienced by users.
Most of the considerably trusted brands sell the device at a price upwards of ₹1000, with a promise of high quality. But there continues to be reports of patients who get vastly different readings – sometimes as much as five points. When the ideal SpO2 reading is above 92%, an error of more than 2 points is a considerable discrepancy that can make the difference between being healthy or being an asymptomatic COVID-19 patient.
There are also many who sell off-brand oximeters, which display inaccurate values and cause further panic among people. The oximeters that are used in hospital settings are of the highest quality and cost between Rs.50,000 to 1,00,000. The same accuracy that these devices show, cannot realistically be expected of cheaper variants, and yet people continue to buy them.
Expert doctors recommend buying from credible brands that have a proven history in the market over cheaper variants that are capitalizing on people’s concern for their wellbeing. Most of all, doctors also recommend taking the time to learn how best to use the device.
Is it time to order an oximeter yet?
Now, if you’re set on buying an oximeter, make sure to take into account the above factors and turn to genuine brands. But if you are on the fence, try answering the following points to know if you need it at all.
- You suffer from pre-existing conditions that put you at higher risk for COVID-19, especially respiratory conditions, or chronic ailments.
- You may have come in contact with a COVID-19 patient.
- You work in conditions that pose a higher risk of COVID-19, such as in the medical field.
- You have developed minor symptoms like fever, breathlessness or excessive fatigue.
If you answered yes to one or more of these statements, it might make sense for you to get yourself an oximeter. But make sure that you don’t rely only on the oximeter as a way to assure you of your wellbeing.
Even if your device shows that your SpO2 levels are normal, and you continue to experience symptoms of COVID-19 or hypoxemia, it’s time to see your doctor.
While oximeters make for great SpO2 and heart rate monitors, they can’t replace the expertise of a doctor and proper testing, with regard to a condition as serious as COVID-19.
If you’re planning to invest in an oximeter, make sure to buy from credible brands, and use the acquired data for the purpose of approaching your doctor, who can best help you in figuring out your next steps.
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