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Why is measuring oxygen key in COVID-19 patients?

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Why is measuring oxygen key in COVID-19 patients?

Dr. Tania Zertuche, academic director of the Internal Medicine specialty program and member of TecSalud's COVID patient care team, explains the topic for CONECTA.

“Oximetry is an indirect way to measure the concentration or how much oxygenation we are having in our blood, that is, what percentage of your blood carries oxygen,” mentions the specialist,

He adds that this can be done at home with an oximeter, a small device with a built-in clip to fit on a finger.

With this device you can quickly and easily measure your oxygenation level and determine if you need to seek medical help if it is less than 92%, he emphasizes.

The specialist points out that one of the greater effects that COVID-19 can cause is inflammation of the lungs, which could generate a pneumonia.

“It must be clarified that it is not in all cases of COVID (pneumonia occurs). But when it comes oxygen exchange does not occur correctly, and it is not able to reach a sufficient concentration of oxygen to the molecules of the organism", He explained.

This you need to know to measure your oxygenation level

– When should I start monitoring?

Measure oxygen » ProSalud

Dr. Zertuche believes that if you have a diagnosis of COVID, or you suspect be infected, it is important that you do a monitoring your oxygen levels in the blood.

“If we present symptoms (it is best) to get tested, and having a confirmed diagnosis, monitoring should preferably be with an oxygen saturator, with pulse oximetry", he pointed.

Emphasize that in the event of a positive diagnosis you must seek medical help and follow the indications of the professionals.

What are the minimum oxygen levels?

Dr. Zertuche explains that normal oxygen levels are:

  • At least 95% in healthy people
  • at least 92% in who they were diagnosed with COVID-19

– What happens if I have COVID and oxygenation above 92%?

“(In COVID cases) as long as we remain above 92%, the management can continue at home and without the need for supplemental oxygen.

“You have to keep an eye on the oxygen saturation, know what our normal level is and see the tendency of this oxygenation”, suggests.

 If oxygenation is below 92%, it is recommended surveillance of this saturation in a hospital.


– What warning signs should I know? 

The TecSalud specialist says that characteristic symptoms appear that oxygen saturation has begun to decrease or is below the normal level. These might be:

  • Sfeeling of shortness of breath
  • Dizziness, and/or nausea

“If I can normally do certain activities – like climbing stairs – without getting short of breath and suddenly I start to notice that I am getting more tired or short of breath, could be an indicator", He says.

However, he says that we must also take into account that this sensation can be generated by other conditions unrelated to COVID-19For example, lack of Physical conditioning suitable. 

-What happens to me if I have low oxygenation?

Have lower levels of oxygen saturation in the blood during short periods of time does not cause damage, But if this lack is sustained it can damage or cause excessive strain on the cells of your body.

– What options are there to measure oxygenation?

Dr. Zertuche says there are several ways to measure oxygenation in your body:

– Pulse oximetry

This is one of the most practical and easy options to measure our oxygen levels at home in the current pandemic and also measure your heart rate (pulse).

“According to our pulse and the blood that reaches our finger, the pulse oximeter or oximeter makes a measurement through red or infrared light that allows the device to make a approximate oxygen saturation in our blood", Explain.

The device makes the measurement without you feeling anything on your finger. You can make sure the oximeter is working properly by taking your pulse for one minute and seeing if they are the same when compared to the oximeter reading.

-Blood test

The specialist points out that the level of oxygenation can also be known through a blood test. However, although more precise, this measurement is more common in hospitalized patients. 

“It involves a puncture at arterial level For us to know what it is to know precisely what pressure our body is handling with oxygen; Let's say that for someone who is in isolation it would not be something feasible to do.

"In the hospital, sometimes, especially in patients who are already intubated, this measurement is used as a more direct parameter to really know if the treatment that is being offered is allowing greater oxygenation", points out

El oximeter: the best option to control your oxygenation at home

Dr. Zertuche says that the oximeter or pulse oximeter es the most practical alternative to track your oxygen levels at home.

“This device is increasingly available and easy to use; Let's say that this is the easiest and simplest way available to be able to have an assessment of how our oxygen saturation is in the blood," points out

Zertuche shared some tips for better use and have more precise results:

Avoid using nail polish
It can make a 1 or 2% percentage difference in your oxygenation results.

Perform proper cleaning of the device
If several people in the family are using it, try to ensure adequate hygiene in its use between one person and another.

Wait a few seconds for the analysis
Once placed on your finger, at least 20 seconds is suggested for more accurate results.

Check that the batteries are in good condition
If they are worn, it could cause device failure or generate inaccurate diagnoses.

Avoid being physically agitated
For example, after doing some physical activity, take a moment to return to your normal state and take the test.

Maintain a correct posture
It is recommended to do the measurement being seated and properly place the device in your index finger.

– You can make a review at any time of the day
If you have been diagnosed with COVID-19, you can get one test every 8 hours.

– Take into account other factors 
Having fever, low blood pressure severe anemia These are factors that can lead to inaccurate diagnoses. Also take into account your age, hemoglobin levelAnd including the height of the city where you are.

And what do I do if my oxygen levels start to drop?

Dr. Zertuche points out that only 15 or 20% of the People diagnosed with COVID-19, approximately, could present a decrease in your oxygenation levels.

Some people may even present the call “silent hypoxia, in which there are no severe symptoms, such as shortness of breath, but they already bring levels below 92%.

To avoid the above, it is important to monitor oxygenation levels and seek medical help as soon as possible when faced with a low level.

“In the first 7 days of the infection, it is rare for patients to immediately develop pneumonia. It usually occurs after day 7 of the onset of symptoms, which is why it is important know our base oxygenation levels, and see the trend.

“As long as we remain above 92%, care can be continued at home and without the need for supplemental oxygen", adds.

“As long as we stay above 92%, care can be continued at home and without the need for supplemental oxygen.”

Should I provide oxygen on my own?

The specialist emphasizes that oxygenation levels They can go down from one day to the next, so he advises go immediately to a hospital and do not give oxygen on your own until it is medical indication.

“Our recommendation in TecSalud is that monitoring be in-hospital when there is a need for supplemental oxygen.

“We have seen patients who do monitoring at home with oxygen concentrator, With that they already saturate above 93%, but there are cases that due to this delay the symptoms quiet a little y They may arrive at the hospital with more deterioration", Señala.

So when should I use supplemental oxygen?
Oxygen concentrators and tanks should only be used under the supervision and recommendation of medical personnel, urges Dr. Zertuche.

“We do not recommend starting the use of oxygen at home if there is no doctor's supervision; What the World Health Organization recommends is to go to the hospital when there is already a need for oxygen,” he points out.

It explains that its use must be controlled and is only indicated in a personalized manner by health specialists for patients who have already been hospitalized and who are out of danger of having severe pneumonia.

“We really only indicate its use for patients who have already been in the hospital, who have already received treatment, who are out of danger or who have already recovered from severe pneumonia.

“(For patients) who may need to go home with an oxygen tank or concentrator; If we have patients who, to avoid prolonging their stay in the hospital, return home with oxygen and work at home (with supervision),” he concludes.

The COVID-19 disease is the name of the disease caused by the coronavirus called SARS-CoV-2, detected in China in 2019, and which spread throughout the world, generating a pandemic in 2020.

The disease primarily spreads from person to person through droplets ejected from the nose or mouth of an infected person when they cough, sneeze, or talk. It can also be spread by touching surfaces with the virus with your hands and then touching your mouth, nose and eyes.

The most common symptoms are cough, sore throat and fever. 80% of cases do not require hospitalization. In severe cases, symptoms such as difficulty breathing, pain or tightness in the chest, or difficulties speaking or moving occur, in which medical help should be sought.

The basic prevention measures are frequent hand washing, use of face masks and maintaining a distance of one and a half meters between people.

Do you need help?
If you have questions about COVID-19 care, you can contact TecSalud:

E-mail: [email protected]
WhatsApp: 81.8888.0775

Additionally, if you are part of the Tec de Monterrey community and need to speak with a doctor or have psychological help at no cost, you can use the T Quiero line with attention 24 hours a day, 7 days a week:

Tel: +800 8139 500
App: Orienta (both on iOS and Android – enter with the student's or collaborator's payroll or registration)

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Jorge Camargo
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