A pulse oximeter is a device that evaluates oxygen saturation in the blood. Many learned about it only during the COVID-19 pandemic, when it became known that hypoxia (a decrease in the level of oxygen in the blood) can develop with this disease, which for some time does not affect the human condition. By the time of hospitalization, such patients may already be in serious condition.
In a new study, South African scientists tested whether using a pulse oximeter improves predictions for COVID-19. They distributed these devices to more than 8,000 patients with confirmed coronavirus infection who were being treated at home. All participants had risk factors for a severe course of the disease (diabetes, hypertension, and others).
The patients were taught how to use the device and were asked to take measurements twice a day. If the indicator fell below 95%, they should have asked for help. With a saturation below 90%, they were advised to urgently go to the hospital.
Scientists compared the risk of death of study participants with the rates of 30 thousand patients from risk groups who did not use pulse oximeters. It turned out that in the first group it was 52% lower than in the second.
During the study, 42 participants died. According to the author’s calculations, without the use of a pulse oximeter, mortality could be more than twice as high.
The study authors believe that the difference in mortality between groups can be explained by the fact that people who monitored blood oxygen levels earlier sought medical help. Patients who were admitted to the hospital after using a pulse oximeter had lower levels of inflammation (C-reactive protein readings).
Scientists note that using a pulse oximeter can reduce anxiety in people who are being treated for COVID-19 at home.