PHN Explores: Why days 5 to 10 are so important when you have coronavirus (From The New York Times)
PHN Content By Mat Edelson
If We Had Written the Headline
If you have Covid-19, measuring your oxygen level at home is easy and may save your life
Why You Should Care
If you have Covid-19, the CDC says that if your breathing is fine and you have no underlying conditions, you probably should not go to the hospital. Some experts now think that’s the wrong advice, because your body may be slowly losing oxygen capacity for days before you even realize it.
The good news is testing your oxygen level at home is simple. The result can act as an early warning that you need to call your doctor, who may suggest you get oxygen treatment and/or go to the hospital. Anecdotal evidence also suggests that when you catch oxygen loss early with Covid-19, it’s less likely you’ll need to go on a ventilator.
Doctors are learning that the breathing troubles caused by Covid-19 can occur very gradually rather than all at once. In these slower-moving cases, the body has time to adapt. It’s similar to what would happen if you climbed a mountain only a few feet at a time; you’d hardly notice the oxygen around you was gradually getting thinner. If this adaptation occurs while you have Covid-19, you may feel like your breathing is fine when, in fact, your oxygen level could be dropping into dangerously low territory. We’re talking the kind of zone where you can go from “fine” to “ICU ventilator” very fast.
A way around this potential trap is to track your oxygen level every day. That means buying a pulse oximeter. The “pulse ox,” as it’s commonly called, is a small device that clips on the end of your finger like a clothespin. Within a few seconds, it uses a beam of light to measure and then display your oxygen level. As The NY Times story states, “the normal saturation range (reading on the pulse oximeter) is about 96 to 99 percent. If your blood reading drops to 92 percent, it’s time to call a doctor.”
A pulse ox runs $25-$50 (possibly covered by your flexible health spending plan) and it could be a very good investment: The results may allow your doctor or hospital physician to offer quick and less-invasive therapies that raise your oxygen levels without the need of a ventilator.
Dr. Richard Levitan, a Littleton (NH) Regional Hospital emergency room physician who worked in a NYC hospital during the height of their Covid-19 outbreak.
Here’s Dr. Levitan on PBS’ Amanpour & Co explaining how Covid-19 often slowly affects the lungs (at the 6:48 mark of the interview, Levitan tells of an Italian hospital achieving excellent long-term results with ER diagnosed Covid-19 patients by sending them home with pulse oximeters.)
From Science Magazine: Why don’t some coronavirus patients sense their alarmingly low oxygen levels?