Pulse oximeters are a COVID-19 must have

[Star Tribune, April 23, 2020] Subtle shifts in the color of blood as it moves through a dense network of blood vessels can be a potent clue that a person has COVID-19, even if other signs of physical problems are absent.

That realization has set off a national buying spree for optical medical devices called pulse oximeters, which can clip onto a finger or earlobe and detect color variations to tell how much oxygen is in the blood. The devices are common in hospitals and doctor’s offices, though consumers are increasingly trying to buy them for home medical kits, alongside thermometers and bandages.

Some patients with COVID-associated pneumonia have clinically significant oxygen deprivation, yet they are talking on their phones more or less normally and a short time later they have a breathing tube inserted for a ventilator, said Dr. Andrew Stiehm, a pulmonologist who has treated COVID-19 patients at Allina Health’s United Hospital in St. Paul.

The condition has been given names like “happy hypoxia” and “silent hypoxia.” “Some of these patients we are seeing, they don’t look as miserable as we would normally expect them to be … with their oxygen saturations,” Stiehm said.

For hospitalized patients, silent hypoxia has several implications.

Read the full story online at www.startribune.com.

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