What are Pulse Oximeters and why are they so popular right now?

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During the uncertain times of Coronavirus, it’s understandable that top of the list of things that people want, even above toilet paper is information and advice. The deeper we get into the pandemic, the more opinion pieces and advice is starting to come from various experts. Recently we’ve heard that something as simple as pharmacy essentials such as paracetamol or ibuprofen can help treat the symptoms of COVID-19 according to NHS England, and this week an opinion piece in the New York Times by Dr Richard Levitan has mentioned that a Pulse Oximeter, an over the counter device can provide an early indication of the kinds of breathing problems associated with COVID-19.

Dr Levitan spent 10 days in New York at the very centre of America’s Coronavirus fight lending his expertise in lung health. He quickly saw for himself what has been widely discussed throughout the pandemic, that people react very differently when they have this condition. There were those that had the symptoms for Covid Pneumonia, but even those who weren’t displaying the same kind of symptoms, many of them still had Covid Pneumonia, and because of this they weren’t being treated early enough, and as such the Covid Pneumonia was not being diagnosed early enough to give the patient more of a fighting chance. He said:

“A vast majority of Covid pneumonia patients I met had remarkably low oxygen saturations at triage—seemingly incompatible with life—but they were using their cellphones as we put them on monitors. Although breathing fast, they had relatively minimal apparent distress, despite dangerously low oxygen levels and terrible pneumonia on chest X-rays.” Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs that will more often than not cause chest discomfort, pain with breathing and other breathing problems, however according to Dr Levitan when Covid Pneumonia first strikes, these symptoms aren’t as obvious, even as the oxygen levels in the lungs fall, by the time the symptoms start to arise in some people their lungs are already dangerously low on oxygen and are far more likely to need a ventilator. Detecting the silent hypoxia early can play a part in potentially preventing patients needing to have increasingly scarce ventilators.

Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs that will more often than not cause chest discomfort, pain with breathing and other breathing problems, however according to Dr Levitan when Covid Pneumonia first strikes, these symptoms aren’t as obvious, even as the oxygen levels in the lungs fall, by the time the symptoms start to arise in some people their lungs are already dangerously low on oxygen and are far more likely to need a ventilator. Detecting the silent hypoxia early can play a part in potentially preventing patients needing to have increasingly scarce ventilators. 

“There is a way we could identify more patients who have Covid pneumonia sooner and treat them more effectively — and it would not require waiting for a coronavirus test at a hospital or doctor’s office. It requires detecting silent hypoxia early through a common medical device that can be purchased without a prescription at most pharmacies: a pulse oximeter.” “Detection of hypoxia, early treatment and close monitoring apparently also worked for Boris Johnson” said Dr Levitan Dr Levitan wasn’t the first to recommend a pulse oximeter either, Andy Cohen, an American presenter was told by his doctior that a pulse oximeter could help him track the severity of his symptoms because as an asthma sufferer he was driving himself crazy thinking every slight abnormality in his breathing was something much more serious. In fact demand for pulse oximeter’s in the US has been so great that many pharmacies have sold out.

What is a Pulse Oximeter?

A pulse oximeter is no more complicated than using a thermometer. These small devices turn on with one button and are placed on a fingertip. In a few seconds, two numbers are displayed: oxygen saturation and pulse rate. Pulse oximeters are extremely reliable in detecting oxygenation problems and elevated heart rates.

What do Pulse Oximeters Measure?

Oxygen is carried around in your red blood cells by a molecule called haemoglobin. Pulse oximetry measures how much oxygen the haemoglobin in your blood is carrying. This is called oxygen saturation and is a percentage (scored out of 100). It’s a simple, painless test which uses a sensor placed on your fingertip or earlobe. The oximeter display shows the percentage of oxygen in your blood. For someone who’s healthy, the normal blood oxygen saturation level will be around 95–100%. If the oxygen level is below this, it can be an indicator that there is a lung problem. Current guidelines in the UK state that people with a resting stable oxygen saturation of 92% or less should be referred for further assessment. These devices have been useful for tracking bloody oxygen anomalies in patients that have respiratory or cardiac problems, especially those with COPD. They can also be used to help diagnose some sleep disorders such as sleep apnoea.

Do I Need a Pulse Oximeter?

Dr Levitan’s opinion piece certainly makes some interesting points for how a simple over the counter device can help in the global fight against Coronavirus, but not everybody needs one. If you suffer from lung conditions, respiratory health conditions or you’re older in age then a pulse oximeter can help to track anomalies in your blood oxygen, or at least alert you to when you should seek the advice of your GP. If you’re in general good health and don’t have a history of breathing problems, then the likelihood of you needing to keep track of oxygen in your blood is quite low. In conclusion, whilst oxygen saturations can be an indicator and aid future diagnosis, it is important to follow the advice on the NHS Website Any concerned, or affected, individual can use their results from a Pulse Oximeter and any Temperature readings collected to seek further support, either through their own GP or via NHS 111 Corona Virus service. Here at Tower Health we are able to provide you with the necessary support to purchase a Pulse Oximeter. Please do not hesitate to contact one of our dedicated Sales Team for further information by phone
0800 953 1666, or via our web chat service.

Breathing Problems Caused by Allergies

We understand it can be difficult and confusing to understand the symptoms, and it is worth remembering that we are currently in allergy season which can also cause changes to your breathing. If your allergies do affect your breathing, you can find our natural breathing problem treatments that can offer relief.

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