News You Can Use: Buy a Pulse Oximeter in Case You Catch Covid


A few weeks ago, I tested positive for Covid. After a few days of really bad symptoms (fever, chills, etc.), I felt reasonably good. I had no trouble breathing. But I had read months ago that one reason Covid patients were dying is that some people whose breathing felt fine were actually quite short on oxygen due to Covid-related pneumonia, but they didn't know it. By the time they got to the hospital because it started to affect their breathing, the pneumonia was severe, they had extremely low oxygen levels and their prospects were poor. So last Spring I bought a cheap pulse oximeter in case I caught Covid, and I started monitoring my blood oxygen levels when I tested positive.

Even though my symptoms seemed to be resolving, my blood oxygen levels were gradually decreasing. By nine days after symptoms started, my readings were 91-93 (95 and up is fine, under 94 needs to be monitored closely, under 90 is dangerous). So my physician brother-in-law sent me to the emergency room to be checked. They did a chest x-ray and CT scan and found substantial pneumonia in my lungs. Five days in the hospital later, after treatment with remdesivir, steroids, and some supplemental oxygen, I was ready to be discharged with a take-home oxygen tank, and after the first day or two at home my oxygen levels were back over 95. (I'm feeling pretty good at this point except I still get winded easily.)

If I had stayed home, would my symptoms have resolved themselves? Likely, especially given that the evidence that remdesivir really helps much if at all is sketchy. But it's also possible that without my handy pulse oximeter, my pneumonia would have continued to progress and I would have still wound up in the hospital later, in much worse shape.

All of which is a long way of suggesting that you should buy a pulse oximeter and have it handy in case you get Covid. Why the CDC and state and local public health officials haven't been beating this drum since the Spring, I don't know…

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  1. Good advice. I’ve got one I bought for diagnosing sleep apnea, but you don’t need the data logging capacity for just checking for hypoxia.

    The thing with Covid is that regular pneumonia messes with both oxygen exchange and your capacity to expel CO2. Covid seems to only compromise your oxygen exchange.

    Breathing is regulated by CO2 levels, so you can become hypoxic with Covid without feeling short of breath.

    The medical establishment are not big on recommending self-help, unfortunately.

    1. “I’ve got one I bought for diagnosing sleep apnea, but you don’t need the data logging capacity for just checking for hypoxia.”

      Can you please elaborate on this? I think I may have sleep apnea.

      1. The one I got is obsolete, but there are plenty of others, like this one:

        EMAY Sleep Oxygen Monitor with App for iPhone & Android | Track Overnight & Continuous Blood Oxygen Saturation Level & Heart Rate with Professional Report | Memory Stores Data Up to 40 Hours

        You wear it on your finger overnight, and it can detect sleep apnea by watching for periods of low O2 produced by the abnormal breathing.

      2. You can buy a smartwatch with a sleep function. It will monitor breathing, and record pauses in it. Some such watches also track oxygen levels. They can drop really low during apnea. You can then show the record of your sleep to your sleep doctor.

      3. Thanks Brett and David!

    2. As far as the medical establishment goes, these are the same people who actively lobbied against first responders like paramedics doing anything remotely medical, like CPR, back in the day. Read the older versions of the Hippocratic oath, it’s pretty much a union contract divvying up the work among doctors and doctors alone. The concept of self-help is entirely an anathema to their training.

      Years ago I got into an odd exchange with one doctor when they asked who my primary care provider was. Logically, I replied, “me” and she nearly went apoplectic asking what made me so smart and when I became a doctor who knows so much? Sorry doc, it’s my ass and at best you’ll never be more than a consultant.

  2. I am so glad you have recovered!

    Thanks for posting this, it’s very helpful info.

  3. Just ordered one–will be useful for me for other purposes as well.

    Thanks, and best wishes to you, David.

  4. Sorry to hear you went through that. Glad to hear you’re on the road to recovery.

  5. Good point about self help. I have often argued here that self help is the sole factor found in all low crime jurisdictions. I have not forgotten medical care. All medications that are not addictive and that have a high toxic dose should be over the counter. Doctors should be consulted after several attempts have failed.

    Someone mentioned sleep apnea. You diagnose sleep apnea form an app on a watch or cell phone. Why do you need a prescription to buy a CPAP machine?*/ It is a fan that blows air. If you set it too high, you will feel discomfort and reset it. There is no way to hurt yourself with one.

    We are sick of these failed and toxic professions and their $trillions in rent seeking.

    1. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that you can’t hurt yourself with one. If you don’t clean it regularly you can get toxic mold.

      But, of course, having a prescription doesn’t do anything to protect you from that, and ultrasonic humidifiers have the same problem.

      You’re right, it’s just rent seeking.

      1. You can not get toxic mold issues from a pulse oximiter — it is a finger contact and no more dangerous than anything else you touch your finger with. Yes, you can clean it with ETOH and that is not a bad idea, but good God, this is paranoia. And yes, i know a LOT about toxic mold. You have to breathe it for it to bother you..,,

        1. Brett meant that you can conceivably get toxic mold issues from a CPAP machine, not from a pulse oximeter. Still, the mold issue is not the reason that CPAP machines are classified as a prescription-only medical device.


  6. Thanks for the post. Some neighbors look after a bunch of old folks — run errands, pick up prescriptions, get groceries, do odd jobs around the house — and I got them one, just because.

  7. Glad to hear you are on the mend. Take care of yourself.

  8. Having a lawyer make public health declarations based on anecdotal evidence is as silly as having a medical doctor make legal decisions based on a reading of the Constitution.

    1. You are not only entitled to a full refund of your subscription price, you may decline to buy a pulse oximeter, though if you actually bother to read the relevant medical research, I doubt you would so decline. The strange thing about articles about pulse oximeters written by medical professionals is they all acknowledge that they can help Covid patients monitor their oxygen, but they all stop short of recommending them, with the commonality seeming to be that they think the average person is too stupid to use one appropriately.

      1. Thanks … please send the refund to my bitcoin address – I’ll send you a link via e-mail 🙂

        In all seriousness:
        1. I’m glad that you’re feeling better.
        2. It’s not that people are too stupid … it’s that they are not informed. For example, there is a natural variation to your oxygen levels depending on your activity, how you use the device, and the quality of the device you purchase. This means that (a) you could be reassured of an ok reading when you really are at risk, or (b) you could think that you have a problem when you don’t.

        The last thing that the medical system needs is thousands of people misreading pulse oximeters and rushing to the ER in fear for their lives.

        npr has a decent rundown:

  9. Do NOT buy a “cheap” one — buy one from a reputable outfit — I suggest the ones that WalGreens sells. I have seen some truly screwy ones, and bogus readings are worse than no readings at all.

    How to tell — have a healthy person use it, and if it’s not well into the 90s (or over 99%), it ain’t working. Throw it away…

    Now try to explain that to BLM….

    1. Explain to BLM that George Floyd died from a low O2 stat caused by his COVID. Evidence suggests that…

      1. Boy, weird that this just happened to kick in right when someone kneeled on his neck for an extended period of time. Really bad luck for Chauvin.

        1. This is also a very weird post to bring that topic up

        2. Bad luck for Chauvin, yes — but wasn’t he saying from the get go that he couldn’t breathe? Chauvin may be an A-hole, but he is innocent.

  10. Good hearing you seem to be on the mend now. You have any idea at all where you might have contracted the virus? Always interesting to hear what sort of living patterns are potentially risky, or risky if practiced in particular fashion.

    1. From the nanny/housekeeper, pretty sure.

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