Amid the pandemic, healthcare professionals have been constantly emphasising the need of keeping a check on your blood oxygen levels (SpO2). It is the falling oxygen level that can take a COVID-19 case from mild to critical when left unmonitored. Thus, the pulse oximeter has become the most important component of our medical kit in the past year. It is important that all of us have a reliable device at home right now for constant monitoring of SpO2 levels in case someone gets infected.
However, last week my aunt and uncle had to make a couple of unnecessary rounds to the hospital after their oximeter started “acting” up. My aunt was COVID-19 positive and the device kept showing different oxygen readings varying from 96 to 71. It was alarming and it took them two absolutely unnecessary visits to the doctor to realise that my aunt’s oxygen level was perfectly fine and it was her bright red nail paint that actually made the oximeter give wrong readings.
Clearly, just having an oximeter at home is not enough. We also need to know how to use it right so as to monitor the patient correctly and avoid any panic situation at home. We recently reached out to Dr. Vikrant Shah, Consulting Physician, Intensivist, and Infectious Disease Specialist, Zen Multispeciality Hospital, Chembur to learn the right way of monitoring SpO2 levels at home. Dr. Shah gave us tips for using an oximeter and also talked about factors that can interfere with the device's functioning.
Dr. Shah insists that everyone should be monitoring their blood oxygen levels at the moment given that even asymptomatic patients can also experience hypoxia (lowering of oxygen level). As he explains, “it is essential for asymptomatic, mild, and severe COVID-19 patients to keep a check on their oxygen levels. Not doing so can be problematic for the patients. Hence, invest in a good pulse oximeter to keep a track of your SpO2 levels.”
Here are some steps that you need to keep in mind while taking your oxygen level readings at home:
For home use, opt for a fingertip pulse oximeter. Before buying any product, check the accuracy by verifying the reviews. "Check for certification that will suggest the device is good to use. Go for well-known brands. The device should be made of good durable material," adds Dr. Shah.
After turning on the device and checking that there is enough battery, just clip it on the end of a finger. Remember, your nail should be facing up. Wait for a few seconds and the reading will be displayed on the device.
The device gives two results--blood oxygen level (SpO2) and pulse rate (PR). We need to focus on the SpO2 reading which is above 94% for mild cases and below 90% for serious cases. In case the reading falls below 92%, it’s advisable to consult your doctor.
When taking SpO2 reading, it is important that you keep your hand still ‘coz constantly moving the hand can impact the oximeter’s reading.
COVID-19 positive individuals should take a 6 min walk every three hours and then check their blood SpO2 levels. You need to compare it with the patient’s SpO2 levels at rest and seek medical help if they fall by more than 3% after activity.
While taking the reading make sure that your hands are not cold or wet because this will interfere with the oximeter’s reading. Your hands need to be warm, dry, and relaxed.
Applying nail polish and artificial nails and then getting the oximeter readings can impact the reading. This is because the device reads your SpO2 with the help of a beam of light that penetrates through the nails. However, this function can be obstructed in the case of nail paint and nail extensions. Thus, it is advisable that you remove them before taking the reading.
Remember constant monitoring of blood oxygen level can save a lot of lives during the COVID-19 pandemic and it's important to consult a healthcare expert in case the SpO2 level falls below 92.
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