Context: As healthcare systems around the world struggle to test as well as treat people for Covid-19, some experts have advocated the use of a medical device called the ‘pulse oximeter’ for testing those who have the disease, or those suspected of having it.

About  pulse oximeter: 

  • Pulse oximetry is a test used to measure the oxygen level (oxygen saturation) of the blood.
  • The device measures the saturation of oxygen in red blood cells, and can be attached to a person’s fingers, toes, nose, feet, ears, or forehead. It can be reused or disposed of after use.
  • It is an easy, painless measure of how well oxygen is being sent to parts of your body furthest from your heart, such as the arms and legs.
  • Based on the information from the blood oximeter, a healthcare provider can take a decision about whether a person needs extra oxygen.
  • The device is generally used to check the health of patients who have known conditions that affect blood oxygen levels, such as heart and lung conditions, and for those who show symptoms such as shortness of breath.


Importance of the device during Covid-19:

  • According to The New York Times, a pulse oximeter can help identify a potentially deadly condition in Covid-19 patients called Covid pneumonia sooner and more effectively, and thus help save more lives.
    • Covid pneumonia: This disease affects the lung’s ability to transfer oxygen. It also causes difficulty in breathing. When a person cannot inhale enough oxygen and exhale enough carbon dioxide, the pneumonia can lead to death.
  • A pulse oximeter could help in the early detection of ‘silent hypoxia’, a form of oxygen deprivation that is known to precede Covid pneumonia.
    • A fall in oxygen levels, caused by the silent hypoxia, can serve as a signal for seeking additional treatment immediately, and not wait for a coronavirus test.
  • Compared to other kinds of pneumonia, Covid pneumonia is especially severe as it completely affects the lungs instead of small parts.
    • Also, most other types of pneumonia that are known are bacterial, and treated using antibiotics. This is not the case with Covid pneumonia, as it is viral. 
  • Among those who contract the novel coronavirus, the most severe cases are those who develop Covid pneumonia.
    • Patients are required to be put on ventilator support in such severe cases to ensure adequate circulation of oxygen in the body.

Source: https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/pulse-oximeter-coronavirus-explained-6390548/