This Device Could Help Detect Coronavirus Earlier And Save Lives

Detecting COVID-19 may soon be easily done at home with a simple technology. A doctor from New Hampshire, who observed patients in heavily affected New York, said using pulse oximeters to check a person’s oxygen levels could help recognize early signs of the disease. 

Dr. Richard Levitan, who has three decades of experience as an emergency room doctor, said having pulse oximeters at home may help save lives amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The device helps measure how much oxygen we have in our blood.

He volunteered in March at Bellevue Hospital in New York City to help manage patients that contracted the coronavirus disease. Levitan noticed that many of the patients had very low oxygen levels but did not exhibit serious breathing issues, CBS News reported Thursday.

“They would arrive with oxygen levels that basically were incredible to us,” the doctor told “CBS This Morning” co-host Gayle King. “I mean, almost unimaginable how people could be awake and alert and have oxygen levels that are half normal.”

Healthy people commonly get 94 percent to 100 percent oxygen levels on pulse oximeters. But Levitan said many people with COVID-19 had only 50 percent, close to levels on the summit of Mt. Everest. 

Despite very low oxygen in their blood, many patients could still function normally. Levitan said he was mainly surprised when some people were still able to use their mobile phones despite being sick with coronavirus for days. 

“You know, what is amazing to me with this disease is people’s brains are working fine,” he said. “Their oxygen levels have gone down to scary low levels, but it has happened slow enough that their body has accommodated. So they are not like every other patient we see with serious lung disease.”

But that does not mean any good about COVID-19. The disease has been killing people through “silent hypoxia,” or very low oxygen supply. 

Levitan said shortness of breath can be a late sign of COVID-19. Oxygen levels decline dramatically, allowing people to remain healthy for a few days until their lungs “get stiff” and “carbon dioxide finally starts to build up.”

Regularly checking oxygen levels at home with pulse oximeters may help avoid such health problems. Levitan said people should consider the device as important as a thermometer.

If you notice unusual levels of oxygen after a series of checking, it is important to call a healthcare provider to check your condition before going to the clinic or hospital.

Wrist pulse oximeter Picture of a wrist mounted pulse oxymeter. The device shows the oxygenation of the blood, the pulse rate and the pulse waveform along with several indicators of device specific information. UusiAjaja/Wikimedia Commons

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