COVID-19 is a respiratory infection. It can cause breathing difficulties and lead to low levels of oxygen in your bloodstream. Low oxygen levels make it impossible for your body to function normally and can be life-threatening.
Monitoring blood oxygen levels at home is one way to keep track of your COVID-19 infection and recovery. You can measure your blood oxygen levels with an inexpensive and easy-to-use device called a pulse oximeter.
A pulse oximeter gives you your blood oxygen level as a simple percentage. Any pulse oximeter reading below 90 percent is a sign that you need urgent medical attention.
Your blood oxygen level is a measure of the amount of oxygen in your blood.
Your body gets oxygen when you breathe in. When air goes through your lungs, oxygen enters your bloodstream. When your lungs are inflamed from a serious infection like COVID-19, you may be taking in less oxygen with each breath.
You need the right level of oxygen in your bloodstream for your body to perform important functions, such as: B. holding your heartbeat. The oxygen in your blood also helps your cells produce energy. This energy allows you to think, move, and perform other daily tasks.
The blood oxygen content is measured as a percentage. Levels closer to 100 percent are best and mean your body is getting enough oxygen.
For most people, an oxygen level of 95 percent or more is normal and healthy.
Some people with chronic lung diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) live with below-average blood oxygen levels.
If you have a lung condition, you should call your doctor as soon as you test positive for COVID-19. Your doctor can advise you on how to monitor and treat your condition during infection.
When monitoring your blood oxygen with a pulse oximeter at home, follow these general guidelines:
- Contact a doctor if your blood oxygen level falls below 95 percent
- Seek emergency medical attention if your blood oxygen level falls below 90 percent.
A pulse oximeter (pulse oximeter) is a device that can quickly and noninvasively measure your blood oxygen levels. They’re used regularly in doctor’s offices and hospitals, so there’s a good chance you’ve cut one on your finger at some point.
During a respiratory illness like COVID-19, your doctor may recommend that you use a pulse oximeter at home to keep track of your blood oxygen levels.
Blood oxygen levels can sometimes drop dangerously without causing symptoms such as shortness of breath. In these cases, a pulse oximeter can help identify low oxygen levels early when they can be treated with supplemental oxygen.
Overall, pulse oximeters can be a helpful tool for people with COVID-19. You can purchase a pulse oximeter at most drug and grocery stores without a prescription.
Pulse ox levels in people with darker skin
Pulse oximeter readings are not perfect. Readings can sometimes be inaccurate, especially in people with darker skin. Because they work by passing a beam of light through your finger, skin tone can affect results.
Studies have found that people who self-identify as Black often have pulse oximeter readings several points above their true readings, which can be measured with a blood test called an arterial blood gas.
One study found that blacks are more than three times more likely than whites to have a pulse oximetry reading that is higher than true.
To get more reliable data on blood oxygen levels in people with darker skin, it’s best to take regular measurements and keep records throughout the day. This way you will notice any downtrends.
Low blood oxygen can affect how your body functions. It can cause severe symptoms, but sometimes it doesn’t cause any symptoms at all. In any case, it can be life-threatening.
Symptoms of low blood oxygen levels include:
The primary treatment for low oxygen levels is oxygen therapy. Oxygen therapy gets oxygen into your bloodstream and helps take pressure off your lungs so you can recover from COVID-19.
There are a few ways to receive oxygen therapy. In most cases, you will receive supplemental oxygen through a nasal cannula.
A nasal cannula is a plastic tube that sits in your nose. Oxygen from a tank enters the hose and then into your body. Doctors and respiratory therapists can adjust the amount of oxygen you receive until your blood oxygen levels return to normal.
As you begin to recover, you can slowly reduce the amount of oxygen you receive through the tube.
If you need more support, you may be given oxygen therapy through a process called intubation. This involves inserting plastic tubing directly into your windpipe or trachea.
Intubation helps keep your airway open to allow oxygen to enter your body. The tubing can then be connected to an oxygen supply. When you recover, switch from intubation to a nasal cannula and oxygen tank.
In some cases, you may be discharged from the hospital with portable oxygen, home oxygen cylinders, and a nasal cannula.
In other cases, your healthcare team may want you to breathe fully independently and achieve healthy blood oxygen levels prior to discharge. Your goals will depend on factors such as:
- your overall health
- your age
- any existing lung disease
- whether COVID-19 has damaged your lungs
There are steps you can take at home to maintain your oxygen levels.
Your treatment team may have given you specific instructions, especially if you were sent home on oxygen. It is important to follow any instructions given to you by your doctor or respiratory therapist.
Steps you can take yourself include:
- Quit smoking if you smoke. Smoking decreases the amount of oxygen circulating in your body.
- Adjust your sleeping position. It is best to avoid sleeping flat on your back. Instead, try sleeping on your side. You can also sleep on your stomach, with pillows under your neck, chest, thighs, and chin.
- Try pursed lip breathing. Pursing your lips as if you’re about to whistle and breathing deeply is a great way to reduce shortness of breath and increase blood oxygen levels.
- Adjust how you sit. When lying down on a couch or chair, try to sit up straight with a pillow behind your back to help your lungs get more oxygen.
- Get lots of fresh air. Spend time outside or leave your windows open to ensure you get some fresh air.
- Go for a walk. Short walks can increase your circulation and blood oxygen levels.
COVID-19 is a respiratory infection that can lead to dangerously low blood oxygen levels. This is a medical emergency that requires immediate attention. A pulse oximeter can help you monitor your blood oxygen levels at home.
The best use of a pulse oximeter as an indicator of when to call a doctor or seek emergency care. For most people, any reading below 95 percent is a sign to see a doctor.
However, it is important that everyone seek urgent help if their blood oxygen levels fall below 90 percent.