PULSE OXIMETER: Do you need one?
May 19, 2020 • 1 min read
-- The tiny fingertip device monitors blood-oxygen levels, which can drop dangerously during respiratory illness
A certain pandemic has sparked a frenzied run on the fingertip pulse oximeter, a medical device that lets people check their oxygen saturation levels.
Purchasing data from Bloomreach showed that US sales of fingerprint pulse oximeters spiked by 527% during the week of 20 January, when the first case of Covid-19 was confirmed in the United States. Sales spiked again mid-February, and while the rate of increase has slowed, sales have grown every week since then.
When you put your finger inside a pulse oximeter, it shines a beam of light that detects the level of oxygen in your blood – a measurement called SpO2 (Peripheral capillary oxygen saturation). An SpO2 of 95% and above is considered normal.
Many people afflicted with respiratory illness will have a lower than normal SpO2 reading, without having obvious breathing problems. And by the time they get to hospital, their oxygen levels may have dropped further, increasing the risk of pneumonia.
The American Thoracic Society says most patients need an SpO2 of at least 89% to keep their cells healthy.
The benefit of monitoring is that it can flag declining oxygen levels before breathlessness sets in. And if you do feel like crap – as many Covid patients do – a normal oxygen level reading will relieve some of the stress of the illness.