The COVID-19 pandemic has people scrambling to stock up on first aid items like hand sanitizer, paracetamol and ibuprofen and equipment such as thermometers, hand sanitiser dispensers, personal protective equipment (PPE) and even HEPA air purifiers. Face masks now feature on weekly shopping lists as people learn to live with COVID in compliance with local regulations. However, many households have either omitted to purchase or have purchased too late, one medical item that is vital for monitoring the health and wellbeing of anyone who contracts SARV-COV-19.
The pulse oximeter has been in use in hospitals long before COVID-19. It is a non-invasive device that checks blood oxygen saturation and is ideal for use at home. Let us discover what a pulse oximeter can do and why it is essential for detecting and fighting the COVID-19 virus.
A Brief History of Pulse Oximetry
Prior to the invention of non-invasive pulse oximeters, a small amount of blood had to be drawn and tested to get an accurate reading of blood oxygen saturation levels, or during surgery, anaesthesiologists often had to rely on unreliable measures of tissue oxygenation, such as by observing how red the blood of a patient seemed after a surgeon made the initial incision into the patient. The dangers of not having instant oxygen saturation measurements available are obvious, as undetected hypoxia could quickly lead to emergency situations such as cardiac arrest.
In 1974, Electrical Engineer Takuo Aoyagi devised a mathematical formula that significantly improved the accuracy of previous devices attempting to measure blood oxygen saturation, by taking into account that blood flows through arteries in pulses rather than in a constant flow. Modern pulse oximeters are based on the principles developed by Dr Aoyagi. Dr Aoyagi received a medal from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) in 2015, for innovations in healthcare technology. Despite Dr Aoyagi’s innovative discovery, his employer, Nihon Kohden Corporation failed to commercialise the technology.
Then, in 1978, William New, an anaesthesiologist and intensive care physician (and electrical engineer) at Stanford University Medical School, invented the prototype of the modern pulse oximeter. A few years later he founded Nellcor, the manufacturer of the first commercially available pulse oximeter. The Anesthesia Consultant writes “Steve Jobs changed our way of life with the introduction of the iPhone. In parallel, Bill New changed the world with the introduction of the pulse oximeter. No single device in the 20th century changed medical care more than the oximeter. Nellcor’s successful production, marketing, and sales efforts of their pulse oximeter changed not just anesthesia practice, but medical practice, forever.”
Pulse oximeters have come a long way since the early days. Now a lightweight battery powered fingertip pulse oximeter with an on device OLED or LED display can be purchased by anyone. Devices such as the Jumper Medical JPD-500D Fingertip Pulse Oximeter (FDA registered) are powered by AAA batteries, and simply require clipping onto the fingertip and the press of a button for instant SpO2, Heart Rate and Perfusion Index measurements and a live waveforms displayed on the OLED screen. Advanced devices such as the TGA approved, clinically validated iHealth AIR (PO3M) Wireless Pulse Oximeter take pulse oximetry one step further by offering bluetooth connectivity & synchronization with a companion app which can not only display but record these metrics for future reference or for sharing with health care providers or remote monitoring systems.
What Can A Pulse Oximeter Tell Me?
A pulse oximeter can help identify conditions that can change blood oxygen levels or SpO2. such as COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), asthma, lung cancer, pneumonia, anaemia, and even heart failure. If a person's Sp02 levels are subpar, it is an indication of the existence of a condition that requires medical attention.
So How Do Pulse Oximeters Work?
Pulse oximeters work by emitting red and infrared light through the fingertip or earlobe to detect oxygen levels in your blood. Measurements are non-invasive, accurate, simple and fast.
Many pulse oximeters are also able to provide a perfusion index (PI) reading. Put simply, the Perfusion Index is a measurement of the pulse strength or blood flow at the measurement site. A poor perfusion index measurement for a well placed pulse oximeter may indicate health issues. Perfusion Index can also be used to determine the suitability of a measurement site.
But Do I Need A Pulse Oximeter At Home?
Often our first introduction to a pulse oximeter was probably our first visit to the emergency department of a hospital or upon being admitted to hospital for treatment or surgery. We would have had an oximetry probe attached to our fingertip, and we may have been fascinated watching our heart rate displayed on the device’s screen, and may have even wondered what SpO2 referred to. So pulse oximetry has long been something viewed as being in the realm of medical centres and hospitals.
But is it necessary to have a pulse oximeter at home? Through COVID-19 many government health departments and health care practitioners have encouraged patients, especially those who exhibit symptoms, are immunocompromised, have been exposed or who are known to be infected, to monitor their blood oxygen saturation. Sub-optimal blood oxygen saturation can be an early indicator that someone is unwell and requires urgent medical attention. In some cases, patients suffer from ‘asymptomatic hypoxia’ in which their blood oxygen levels are dangerously low but do not exhibit significant symptoms such as shortness of breath, and often present themselves too late for treatment at hospitals.
In light of this, we believe that pulse oximeters should definitely be part of every home’s first aid kit, as digital thermometers have been for decades now.
In light of the recurrent COVID surges as new variants emerge, many nations have experienced periodic pulse oximeter shortages, as has Australia over December 2021 & January 2022. Many prudent customers have preemptively purchased our advanced, reliable and trusted pulse oximeters and are making them part of their home first aid kits.
Pulse Oximeter Shortages? Where Can I Buy A Pulse Oximeter In Australia?
FitTrack Australia is proud to have in stock the following fingertip Pulse Oximeters:
- Jumper Medical JPD-500D Fingertip Pulse Oximeter (available for immediate shipping)
- Jumper Medical JPD-500H Children's Fingertip Pulse Oximeter (available for immediate shipping)
- iHealth AIR PO3M Wireless Pulse Oximeter (TGA Approved, Clinically Validated, Ships this week)
Our pulse oximeters are covered by an Australian warranty and ship from our Sydney warehouse.