Delhi govt to give pulse oximeters to all COVID-19 patients in home isolation: What the device does and how to operate it

The alarms on a pulse oximeter will alert you if your blood oxygen levels drop below 90 percent, if you have low or high pulse rate or if the oximeter cannot detect your pulse.

Myupchar June 23, 2020 16:00:27 IST
Delhi govt to give pulse oximeters to all COVID-19 patients in home isolation: What the device does and how to operate it

On Monday, Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, announced that the state is going to issue pulse oximeters to all COVID-19 patients in the capital who are under home isolation.

A pulse oximeter is a stapler-like device that you can put on your finger, ear lobe or big toe. It uses infrared light to check the amount of oxygen in your blood.

Most people in home isolation are either asymptomatic or have very mild symptoms. However, with the help of pulse oximeters, they can keep their blood oxygen levels in check and call the helpline number they will be provided with, in case of hypoxemia - drop in blood oxygen levels. The oximeters will need to be returned to the government ten days after recovery.

Blood oxygen levels

Your body needs oxygen to function. The air you breathe in has about 21 percent oxygen. Once the air reaches your alveoli (air sacs in lungs) this oxygen is absorbed into your bloodstream and carbon dioxide is given out, which you then exhale.

When the lungs are inflamed they are unable to properly pass on oxygen to your blood vessels. This leads to a condition called hypoxemia.

A normal person has a blood oxygen saturation level of 95 percent. However, in the case of COVID-19 and other conditions associated with shortness of breath, the blood oxygen levels tend to fall below 95 percent.

If you already have a long-term lung disease like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, your normal blood oxygen levels may be a bit lower than 95 percent. It is better to ask your doctor to know what is normal for you.

Also, a lot of COVID-19 patients have been seen to have what is called ‘happy’ or ‘silent’ hypoxia. It is a condition in which a person has low oxygen levels in their body but they do not show any symptoms (like shortness of breath) associated with it until the blood oxygen levels drop dangerously low and emergency care is needed.

As per media reports, the current guidelines in Delhi are that any person who has a blood oxygen level of lower than 90 percent should be admitted to the hospital. The chief minister also mentioned in his address that oxygen concentrators are available at district levels, and will be provided at home if your condition deteriorates.

How to use a pulse oximeter

A pulse oximeter is quite easy to use -- there are various sizes that come for putting on toe, finger and ear lobe. The probe of a pulse oximeter (the clip you put on your finger) will emit red light on your skin which will pass through your tissue. Your blood will absorb some of the light and a detector on the probe will check how much light is passing through. An oximeter gives a reading of your pulse along with your blood oxygen levels.

Here is how you can use a pulse oximeter:

  • Switch on the oximeter and let it do its internal calibration. Then connect the probe to the oximeter.
  • Before you put on the probe, ensure that the area is clean and dry.
  • Whichever type of oximeter you get, make sure that the device is properly placed. It should not be too tight as to hinder circulation or too loose, which again may not give correct readings or may even slip off. 
  • The oximeter may take a few seconds to read your blood oxygen levels and pulse. However, if it is not showing your pulse, the other reading is not valid.
  • Usually, the pulse reading shows up first.

Here are some things you should keep in mind while using an oximeter:

  • When you put on the probe make sure that you do not have nail paint or any pigment like henna on the area as it may interfere with the readings. 
  • Do not bring it under bright light, the probe only has a thin rubber layer to keep off light. Bright light (such as that from the sun) may cause it to dysfunction.
  • When you take a reading from the oximeter, make sure the patient is not shivering or moving too much.
  • Make sure to switch on the alarm setting.
  • If the patient has low pulse say due to arrhythmia or any other condition, the pulse oximeter may not function well. 
  • You can clean the oximeter with a damp cloth or alcohol swab. Make sure not to spill anything on the oximeter and avoid dropping it.

The alarms on a pulse oximeter will alert you if your blood oxygen levels drop below 90 percent, if you have low or high pulse rate or if the oximeter cannot detect your pulse.

For more information, read our article on Pulse oximeter.

Health articles in Firstpost are written by myUpchar.com, India’s first and biggest resource for verified medical information. At myUpchar, researchers and journalists work with doctors to bring you information on all things health.

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