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What Is a Pulse Oximeter

A pulse oximeter is a handheld electronic device that measures the saturation of oxygen carried in a person’s red blood cells. It quickly and painlessly snaps onto a fingertip to provide an accurate reading in real time. This common medical instrument is an essential for healthcare professionals and has become a useful tool in the fight against COVID-19.

The principal feature of patients with severe COVID-19 is the development of ARDS: a syndrome characterized by an acute onset of hypoxemic respiratory failure with bilateral infiltrates. More simply put, hypoxia starves the body’s organs of oxygen, which can lead to organ failure and death. Using pulse oximeters with older and high-risk patients with underlying conditions, such as asthma or pneumonia, can help generate an early warning sign for anyone whose blood oxygen levels fall below 90. Identifying the potential cases of COVID-19 earlier gives care providers the best possible chance of successfully treating the disease.

A number of pulse oximeters also measure the Perfusion Index, which is the ratio of the pulsatile blood flow to the non-pulsatile static blood flow in a patient’s peripheral tissue. Studies show that an increased Perfusion Index is an early sign of anesthetic failure, and this warning can give care providers valuable information about the patient.

It is important to note that a normal blood oxygen reading does not mean that a patient doesn’t have the virus, and it is not an effective method of determining a positive, either. It is, however, a tool that can help determine whether a patient’s health is deteriorating to the point at which hospitalization is necessary.

Just remember, pulse oximeters should always be used in coordination with a health professional, even when checking in on a patient remotely.

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