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Coronavirus - when you should dial 999

Posted by Janet Rhodes on

My friend Ashley has COVID-19. She’s normally healthy, fit and fun, plays lots of tennis and golf. And now she’s been told if her blood oxygen level falls below 94% she must dial 999 and be admitted to intensive care. 

Apparently COVID-19 causes a dangerous and potentially fatal condition known as acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS).

Chinese researchers examined risk factors for 191 confirmed coronavirus patients who died while being treated in two hospitals in Wuhan, China. The researchers found 50 of the 54 patients who died had developed ARDS while only nine of the 137 survivors had ARDS. Lung pathologist Sanjay Mukhopadhyay MD says “It’s a really, really significant contribution to death in these patients.”

Having low oxygen levels in your blood (severe hypoxia) is one of the four main things doctors look for to identify ARDS. 

The most efficient way to monitor blood oxygen levels is by an arterial blood gas or ABG test. For this test, a blood sample is taken from an artery, usually in the wrist. This procedure is very accurate, but it can be a little painful.

An ABG test can be difficult to do at home, and Ashley has been asked to do an alternative test, using a small device known as a Pulse Oximeter. This is a small clip that is put on a finger like a clothes peg. It can also be used on the ear or toe. It measures blood oxygen indirectly by light absorption through a person’s pulse.

We keep a small stock of Pulse Oximeters for our customers with asthma, COPD, emphysema and other respiratory conditions who check their blood oxygen levels as an ongoing part of their health management. Who would have thought that my friend Ashley, a previously healthy girl with none of those conditions, would have joined them.

If you would like to check your blood oxygen levels with a Pulse Oximeter please click here.

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