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Monitoring oxygen levels can help detect COVID-19 early on

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BATON ROUGE- Respiratory issues can be one of the first symptoms of the novel coronavirus. Now, doctors are saying that using pulse oximeters to monitor oxygen levels could help detect COVID-19 early on.

Oximeters are an easy way to measure whether or not your body is receiving enough oxygen. The device can be used at home, but doctors say there is more you need to know before use in the fight against coronavirus.

"The idea that all of us would go out and buy a medical device, and then try to interpret it without a background in understanding it could create lots of different anxieties and fears that aren't necessary," Doctor Christopher Thomas, Pulmonary and Critical Care Physician at Our Lady of the Lake, said.

He says a "Pulse Ox," clips on to your finger, measuring your blood oxygen levels, however, they are now selling out in stores and online due to high demand.

The device can determine whether or not someone needs extra oxygen.
If blood oxygen levels start trending downward, it could be a sign of a respiratory problem.

"A pulse ox is a piece of medical equipment that creates a number. If you've never been trained in understanding the number, or the trends or evaluating if that's a good signal, then the possibility to get data that may have you make a bad decision is just as possible as getting data that may help you in caring for yourself," he said.

Doctor Thomas says it is important to continue to monitor other possible symptoms of the virus as well.

"What I tell my patients in clinic is, I don't want you wearing one continuously because you're not on a mechanical ventilator, and you're not using a certain advanced oxygen device all the time. So, I want them to correlate it and combine it with other symptoms."

Doctors say there is no need to rush to the stores.

The device is not needed for most people unless someone is trying to monitor shortness of breath or an underlying respiratory disease. 

"I would not recommend that patients who are asymptomatic or patients without a history of lung disease use a pulse ox. It can't help your health. In patients who have been diagnosed with the virus and who are at home, is there a potential opportunity to add to your self-monitoring and self symptoms with a pulse ox? I think that might be possible if your doctor has said it's valuable for you."

Doctor Thomas says it is important to continue to focus on social distancing, hand washing, and self-monitoring your symptoms at home. 


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