Can pulse oximeters detect coronavirus?

Pulse oximeters have become increasingly popular over the past few months because of their use as a coronavirus early detection tool. A number of recovering COVID-19 patients have been given oximeters to keep track of their oxygen levels.

As we launch the Marsden O-100 Fingertip Pulse Oximeter we ask, how important is this clever little device in detecting early signs of coronavirus?

What is an oximeter?

A pulse oximeter is a simple device used to monitor pulse rate and the amount of oxygen carried in the blood. Attach the oximeter to your finger, and using light waves, the device will measure blood oxygen and pulse rate.

How does an oximeter detect COVID-19 symptoms?

One of coronavirus’ most alarming symptoms is that a patient’s blood oxygen level will drop dangerously low, but they’ll show no symptoms of this. This is known as silent hypoxia. A healthy oxygen saturation level is 95% and above; many patients have displayed peripheral oxygen saturation (SpO2) as low as 75%.

During lockdown, we’ve been told to look for symptoms of coronavirus. A ‘new’ dry cough and a fever are the most common and now the most widely known symptoms, and both are fairly easy to spot.

In reality, as we have learnt since the outbreak of coronavirus around the world, symptoms can vary wildly in severity from person to person. Sometimes there may be no obvious symptoms at all.

Low oxygen levels in the blood can cause shortness of breath, but not always. The result is that many people will not seek medical help until their condition is critical.

This has led to increased testing of blood oxygen levels, meaning a huge spike in the popularity of oximeters; a simple device that can measure the oxygen in your blood. In Brazil, for example, health officials are ordering the mass monitoring of blood oxygen among coronavirus patients.

Oximeters ‘could prevent thousands of deaths’

In the UK, the significance of low oxygen levels in the blood as a sign of coronavirus is such that one London GP is campaigning for something to be done. In fact, she believes oxygen saturation probes could prevent thousands of deaths from coronavirus.

One barrier preventing detection is that many consultations now take place remotely rather than face-to-face, says Dr Sharon Raymond.

“Tools for physical assessment are very limited. The probes (oximeters) provide a means of measuring oxygen levels which when taken in context with the patient's symptoms and general condition, guide the assessing clinician as to the level of need for urgent/ emergency face to face assessment.”

NHS England are looking at changing guidelines for 111 call handlers, too. As well as giving oximeters to patients to monitor oxygen levels at home.

How our oximeter works

The Marsden O-100 is designed to be simple and easy to use, allowing you to check oxygen levels in seconds. Simply clip the device onto the end of your finger; it’ll power on automatically. Then, within a few seconds, it will begin measuring your Pulse Rate and Pulse Oxygen Saturation (SpO2).

It is SpO2 that you need to pay attention to in relation to coronavirus. This should be between 95 and 100. 92 or lower is cause for concern and such a reading would mean a hospital visit may be necessary.

The O-100 will tell you if your measurements are normal, or not, onscreen once monitoring is complete (30 seconds if in Spot Check mode). Upto 12 measurement sets can be stored in the device for reference and comparison purposes.

To see the O-100 Fingertip Pulse Oximeter and to order yours, click here.

Further reading

As lockdown continues, read our 3 recommendations for staying healthy at home.

And, with help from ManVFat, here’s our 5 top tips for keeping fat off.

As well as oximeters, thermometers can detect signs of coronavirus. Ideal for businesses, schools and hospitals, we’ve just launched an automatic infrared thermometer.

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