March 21, 2022
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, you have probably heard of a pulse oximeter. This small, clip-like device uses light to quickly measure blood oxygen levels and heart rate.
Blood oxygen levels are the major dividing line between moderate (above 94 percent) and severe (below 94 percent) COVID-19 disease. For this reason alone, it’s worth having a pulse oximeter in your home medicine cabinet. But this easy-to-use device will continue to be helpful long after the pandemic is over.
Oxygen is sent to your bloodstream every time you take a breath. As your heart pumps this oxygen-rich blood throughout your body, it allows other vital organs to function properly. A low level of oxygen in your blood — a condition known as hypoxemia — can cause shortness of breath, confusion, and headache. If you’re experiencing these symptoms, a home pulse oximeter will allow you to quickly identify a potential case of hypoxemia. Seek medical care as soon as possible if your blood oxygen level is low. Left untreated, a severe case of hypoxemia can be fatal or cause serious heart and brain complications.
COVID-19 may have spurred more people to use a pulse oximeter, but there are several other lung-related conditions that warrant the use of this helpful device. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, lung disease (including cancer), smoking, and sleep apnea can all cause blood oxygen levels to drop, so having a pulse oximeter on-hand at home is recommended for anyone with these conditions. If you take any type of oxygen therapy, your doctor will likely advise you to monitor your levels with a pulse oximeter.
Available in most pharmacies or online for about $20, this handy device is fairly simple to use. Simply clip the pulse oximeter on to your fingertip and wait a few seconds while the sensor gets a reading. The oximeter will provide a readout (usually on a digital screen) of your heart rate and blood oxygen. If your pulse oximeter comes back with a reading below 90 percent, you should make an appointment with your healthcare provider, even if you aren’t experiencing symptoms of hypoxemia.
Given the common conditions a pulse oximeter can help monitor — and its particular usefulness during the pandemic — it’s a device worth having in your home for easy access.