My neighbor had no breathing problems, looked perfectly fine but still succumbed to respiratory failure due to COVID-19 infection on his way to hospital. This is a normal scenario nowadays. The possible explanation to this is a typical characteristic of COVID-19 disease that will be explained further. It may not cause obvious breathing problems but silently kill by compromising the patient’s respiratory function. Is there something we can do to self-diagnose the said condition at home and avoid this deadly situation? Yup, there is a totally harmless, fully non-invasive device called as “Pulse Oximeter”.
How Pulse Oximeter can save life of a COVID-19 positive patient?
Some people having novel Coronavirus infection show no symptom of troubled breathing in the beginning, although they may have shockingly low oxygen levels in their blood. This is because, COVID-19 infected lungs can evacuate carbon dioxide properly even if their capability to provide oxygen to the body is compromised.
This contrasts with normal bacterial pneumonia where body is not able to both get rid of carbon dioxide as well as get hold of oxygen due to bad lungs. COVID-19 patient lungs are not stiff and heavy due to fluid or pus accumulation like in pneumonia. Lungs are just unable to get sufficient oxygen to keep healthy vital organs functioning.
Initially, the infected person adjusts to the lower oxygen levels and starts taking deeper breaths faster. This abnormal breathing make their lungs more inflamed and damaged. As the viral load increases in body, patient keep getting lower and reduced amount of oxygen and silently the virus may kill the patient due to cardiac arrest.
Pulse Oximeter proves helpful in alarming the caretakers when oxygen level starts dropping fast. It is a great gadget to save the life of the Coronavirus patients well in time during home isolation.
What is a Pulse oximeter?
Pulse oximeter is a small, portable and lightweight device. It can be used in home to monitor the amount of oxygen present in the body. It can be attached by snapping the index fingertip (linked with the major artery) between the clips. Only a little pressure is felt by the patient, not at all painful. Two wavelengths of light from the oximeter probe are passed through the finger to measure the patient’s pulse rate and Blood Oxygen Saturation (SpO2) or amount of oxygen in the body. The blood and tissues absorb the amount of light emitted by the probe depending on oxygen saturation of haemoglobin in blood. Oximeter fetches its assessment on display screen as current pulse rate and oxygen saturation level in just a few seconds. This enables the attendant to respond quickly to the deteriorating condition of the patient.
It is worth buying personal oximeters for in-home use for people with heart, lung and asthmatic problems. In COVID times, everyone with family members coming under high risk category should invest in this small non-invasive lifesaving equipment for home use.
I will explain the significance of these measurements further, in saving the life of a person.
What is Blood Oxygen Saturation (SpO2)’
As we all might have studied in class 5 about red blood cells (RBC’S) and haemoglobin. Haemoglobin is a main component of RBC’s. Haemoglobin act as a carrier of oxygen in blood. One molecule of haemoglobin can carry up to four molecules of oxygen after which it is termed as “saturated” with oxygen. So, if haemoglobin is carrying oxygen at its maximum capacity, it is simply 100% saturated. A healthy person with normal lungs must have an arterial oxygen saturation of 95% – 100% as the haemoglobin in blood combines with oxygen through its passage from lungs.
A person having an SpO2 reading of 92% or less suggests that his blood is poorly saturated with oxygen. He may have chest pain, shortness of breath and increased heart rate. Oxygen saturation may decrease to 90% during exercise but it should not go below 90% in any healthy person.
What is the normal reading on a Pulse Oximeter?
Normal Pulse Oximeter readings usually range from 95 to 100 percent. Values under 90 percent are considered low and warrants urgent medical attention. Hypoxemia occurs if oxygen levels go below 90%, mild problems such as headaches and shortness of breath can occur. When oxygen is very less, heart and brain function can be hampered. In COVID-19 patients, oxygen saturation level can go far below 95%. Patients can be monitored at home with personal oximeter and do not require hospitalisation until SpO2 reading come below 85%.
What is Pulse Rate?
Pulse rate is basically an estimation of the number of times your heart contracts per minute. A lower heart rate at rest suggests a fit heart. During exercise, the pulse rate can increase to its higher limit. However, the normal pulse rate values for adults may vary from 60 to 100 beats per minute (bpm) based on the activity levels. For some people, a pulse rate can go below 60 bpm and that indicates extremely slow heart action, condition medically known as bradycardia. Bradycardia can cause fainting, fatigue, chest pains and memory problems.
Can we solely rely on Pulse Oximeter during home isolation?
Sometimes, you might be at ease if you keep getting good oxygen saturation levels on the Pulse Oximeter. In the process, it is quite possible to ignore other symptoms of COVID-19. It is essential to discuss the patient’s condition with the doctor on phone consistently during home isolation. You might buy an Oximeter if any of your family member is suffering from high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease and lung conditions like asthma, which put them in high risk category for getting serious by COVID-19. Medical supervision over phone is needed for proper decision making and timely treatment of the patient.