With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been significant interest in checking the blood oxygen level because of its utility in symptomatic COVID-19 cases. However, not many ever get to find the right information that shows them how to check their blood oxygen levels if they ever have to. Well, if you’re one of those people, you don’t have to look any further because this question is answered in this post.
But first, we will take a look at what oxygen level means and why you should know yours.
The oxygen level in the blood measures how much oxygen is circulating with your red blood cells. This is also known as the oxygen saturation level, which is defined as the amount of oxygen the hemoglobin in your blood is carrying. According to the World Health Organization, a reading of 95% to 100% is considered normal while values under 95% are considered low. For anyone with no underlying condition, your levels should either be at 95% or higher. If your oxygen level falls below 88%, it is usually a cause for concern. In this case, it is recommended that you contact your healthcare provider immediately. When your blood oxygen levels are too low, it means that that the oxygen carried by the blood throughout your body is insufficient and this can cause your body not to work properly. This condition is known as hypoxemia and can cause mild problems such as headaches and shortness of breath. In severe cases, hypoxemia can interfere with heart and brain function.
Following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was discovered that low oxygen levels in the blood may be a sign of a COVID-19 infection. Subsequently, healthcare experts recommended the finger pulse oximeter as an at-home device for monitoring the oxygen levels of symptomatic COVID-19 patients. Beyond COVID-19, this device can also be used in patients with lung or heart conditions that may affect the airways or cause difficulty in breathing. Generally, conditions that may require a routine check of your blood level include chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), congestive heart failure, pulmonary fibrosis, pulmonary hypertension, asthma, and cystic fibrosis. Apart from these conditions, blood clots in the lung, pus or water filling the lungs, transitioning from a low altitude, where there is a high concentration of oxygen, to a high altitude, where the oxygen concentration is low, or even scarring or loss of the lung tissues can lead to low blood oxygen levels.
Now that you know that the pulse oximeter can be used to check your oxygen levels, let’s take a look at how to use it. The device is clamp-like and it works by passing small beams of light through the blood in the finger to measure the amount of oxygen traveling around your body. It does this by measuring changes in light absorption in oxygenated or deoxygenated blood.
To check your oxygen levels correctly, once you purchase the device, remove the back cap and insert the batteries. The next step is to position your finger in the device correctly pointing towards the LED light inside then wait for 30 seconds for readings to be displayed. You will see two readings with the first one being oxygen saturation % and the second one is the pulse/heart-rate (so, you can also use the pulse oximeter to measure the heart rate).
Finally, it is also important to note that there are devices in the market that claim to check your oxygen level on the go or from the comfort of your home, such as wearable fitness trackers and wristwatches. However, there is a lot of variability in how these devices work and measure oxygen levels. Also, many of these devices have not been validated by the relevant regulatory agencies or international health organizations such as the FDA, WHO, or the EU, which calls to question their accuracy.