COVID: This Simple Device Can Be a Pandemic Lifesaver
Early in the pandemic, way back in May of 2020, we recommended that you purchase a pulse oximeter. At the time, most people hadn’t heard of this device.
It’s a small handheld instrument that clips to the tip of a finger. It measures how much oxygen is in your blood. If you come down with COVID, it can give you a lifesaving warning that your oxygen level is low and you need to get to the hospital.
Now, a new study in the journal The Lancet confirms our advice to keep a pulse oximeter on hand.i
It found that COVID patients who monitor their oxygen levels at home with the device were less than half as likely to die as those who didn’t have a pulse oximeter.
Pulse Oximeter Cut COVID Deaths by 50%
Researchers gave pulse oximeters to 8,115 patients after they tested positive for COVID. They were instructed to call a doctor if their reading fell below 95%. If it went below 90%, they were told to go to the emergency room.
The scientists compared these subjects with 30,000 patients who did not have pulse oximeters. The death rate was 50% lower among the pulse oximeter users.
“To have a 50% mortality difference is phenomenal,” said Dr. Richard Levitan. “We almost never see a benefit as large as that.”ii
Dr. Richard Levitan with a pulse oximeter.
Dr. Levitan credited pulse oximeters with saving the lives of two of his colleagues who came down with COVID while working at New York hospitals during the first wave of coronavirus.
At the time, there was no vaccine for COVID. But Dr. Levitan said that even if you are vaccinated, you should get a pulse oximeter in case you get a breakthrough infection.
“Your odds of getting seriously ill are low if you’ve been vaccinated, but I’ve hospitalized patients with COVID pneumonia who are vaccinated,” he said.
The early warning that a pulse oximeter can give you makes a big difference, Dr. Levitan said. “If you come in early and spend three to five days in the hospital, that’s very different than coming in late and landing in the ICU.”
You can buy pulse oximeters at pharmacies and big box stores such as Target and Walmart. They are also available through Amazon and other online retailers. Basic models cost about $30.iii
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