Why You Need a Pulse Oximeter at Home in Case You Get Coronavirus

This small gadget could save your life, according to doctors.

While hoards of people depleted the nation's toilet paper supply and drained stores of Clorox wipes, they seemed to miss the most important necessities for hunkering down during quarantine. One such essential is a pulse oximeter, which doctors say could save patients' lives by alerting them to seek immediate medical help in case they get coronavirus.

If you've been to the doctor for your annual physical in the past few years, then you've already experienced a pulse oximeter. This electronic device measures the oxygen in your red blood cells. It resembles a chip clip and is not painful to use. Once you put your finger inside it, your blood oxygen level and heart rate numbers will pop up on the screen within seconds. Note: Studies show that the middle finger on your dominant hand gives the highest reading. Additionally, dark nail polish can slightly affect the accuracy of the tool.

The New York Times reports that a pulse oximeter works by beaming various wavelengths of light through your finger. During this process, "it's targeting hemoglobin, a protein molecule in your blood that carries oxygen. Hemoglobin absorbs different amounts and wavelengths of light depending on the level of oxygen it's carrying."

Pulse oximeter

According to the American Lung Association, a healthy number would be over 92 percent. (Most people get a reading of 95 to 98 percent.) If your number drops below 92 percent, contact your doctor and check if you are experiencing any other serious COVID-19 symptoms.

Richard Levitan, MD, told The New York Times, he has seen many patients arriving at the hospital with dangerously low oxygen levels. "When I'm trying to decide who I send home, a big part of the criteria is 'What is your oxygen? What is your pulse?'" Levitan said. "With a pulse oximeter and a thermometer, Americans can be prepared, diagnosed, and treated before they get really, really sick."

Levitan also notes that pulse oximeters played a crucial role in saving the lives of two emergency physicians he knows personally. "When they noticed their oxygen levels declining, both went to the hospital and recovered," said Levitan. Another benefit of having a pulse oximeter is the ability to discover pneumonia that sometimes comes with coronavirus. According to Business Insider, patients can have pneumonia for days before showing any symptoms, but with this tool, you could monitor yourself in seconds.

These handy little life-savers usually cost between $25 to $50 if you can find them at a drug store, however, sellers have begun price gouging online since demand has skyrocketed amid coronavirus concerns. If you can get your hands on a pulse oximeter, at the very least, it will provide you with much-needed peace of mind, and in more dire cases, it could even save your life.

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