NDTV-Dettol Banega Swasth Swachh India NDTV-Dettol Banega Swasth Swachh India

Coronavirus Explainers

Coronavirus Outbreak Explained: What Is A Pulse Oximeter And Why Is It Becoming A Tool Against COVID-19?

According to medical experts, COVID19 patients are found with lower oxygen rate and that’s where a small device called pulse oximeter plays an important role

Coronavirus Outbreak Explained: What Is A Pulse Oximeter And Why Is It Becoming A Tool Against COVID-19?
  • A pulse oximeter can clip onto a finger and detect oxygen level in the bloo
  • The device can help in early detection of COVID-19 symptoms
  • This device is common in hospitals and doctor’s offices

New Delhi: An everyday medical device, called a pulse oximeter, has recently started gaining attention for its potential in diagnosing and monitoring COVID-19 symptoms. A small equipment that clips onto a person’s finger, pulse oximeter measures pulse and the percentage of oxygen in the blood. It is mostly used for monitoring patients in hospital including those who have had some surgeries and at homes by people with respiratory problems. According to medical experts, the device helps the healthcare provider to decide whether the patient needs extra oxygen.

Also Read: Indian Council for Medical Research Fast-Tracks Roll Out Of Global COVID-19 ‘Solidarity’ Trial

How Pulse Oximeters Measure Oxygen Levels?

Dr. Arvind Kumar, Director, Institute of Robotic Surgery and the Chairman of Centre for Chest Surgery and Lung Transplantation at Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, New Delhi said that a pulse oximeter measures blood oxygen saturation and heart rate by shining a light through the skin and detecting both the colour and movement of your blood cells. Blood cells with a good amount of oxygens are bright red while other are dark red. The pulse oximeter compares the number of bright red cells to dark red cells to calculate oxygen saturation as a percentage, he said. So, if the reading says 95 per cent, it means that 5 per cent of the blood cells have been depleted of oxygen. He added,

Pulse oximeter helps in detecting hypoxia, a condition in which the body is deprived of adequate oxygen supply.

According to Dr. Kumar, the normal blood oxygen saturation level for someone who is healthy will be around 95–100 per cent. The oxygen level below 95 per cent indicates that there is a lung problem. A level below 92 per cent would suggest that the person is seriously ill and may need supplementary oxygen or to be monitored in the hospital.

A pulse oximeter runs on battery and provides real-time results on a small LED (light-emitting diode) display on the device itself.

Also Read: Fight Against COVID-19: An Innovation To Make Masks And Protective Gear Reusable

What Role Does A Pulse Oximeter Play In The Fight Against COVID-19?

Dr. Surya Kant, Professor and Head of Department of Respiratory Medicine, King George’s Medical University (KGMU) Lucknow explained that a pulse oximeter is part of a larger screening and testing process of COVID-19 patients and cannot detect the disease on its own. He said,

A pulse oximeter may indicate issues with blood oxygen levels which could be related to coronavirus because COVID-19 is not the only disease that causes low blood oxygen levels. Other diseases like Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma and other non-COVID-19 lung infection can also result in low oxygen count.

He added that pulse oximeter is recommended for the early detection of ‘COVID Pneumonia’, a potentially deadly condition seen among the most severe coronavirus cases.

In a video interaction with the Health Ministers and Health Secretaries of the States on April 24, Union Health Minister Dr. Harsh Vardhan said that the portable pulse oximeter can help in early diagnosis of the corona patients which can help to curb the mortality rate due to COVID-19.

According to Dr. Kumar, patients suffering hypoxia need to be identified and given oxygen supply. He said,

In many cases, the patients may feel comfortable and may not realise that they have developed hypoxia. This means that the lungs of the patients are tending to involve in the disease. Relying only on clinical tests or waiting for advanced symptoms like shortness of breath to occur may delay the treatment and the patient may become critical due to the loss of this precious time. Regular monitoring of oxygen level will help medical staff to take actions sooner instead of waiting for shortness of breath or pneumonia to occur. This will also help in curbing the sudden increase in distress.

Also Read: CSIR-NAL Develops Non-Invasive Ventilator To Treat COVID-19 Patients

Explaining further, Dr. Kumar gave an example of the 31-year-old police constable who died at Ram Manohar Lohia (RML) Hospital, Delhi on Tuesday (May 5). He said,

The young constable showed no COVID-19 symptoms until Monday evening. Within the next few hours, he had spiked a fever and developed breathing problems prompting his family to rush him to the hospital where he was declared brought dead. I think that he was in a hypoxic state which went undetected in time.

Should You Buy A Pulse Oximeter?

Dr. Surya Kant says that buying a pulse oximeter for using at home is not necessary at all. He said,

There is no need to panic and buy pulse oximeter for home use. If a COVID-19 positive patient feels uncomfortable, they can have their assessment done at the nearby hospital. All hospitals and most doctors have pulse oximeter.

Also Read: Coronavirus Explained: What Is Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus?



  1. Murari Bhagwan Shimpi

    June 1, 2020 at 5:42 pm

    Very helpful and informative article

  2. C.S. Misra

    September 9, 2020 at 6:44 am

    I have an Oximeter and checked the Spo2 and Pulse rate the Spo2 reading was 98 but Pulse rate was started with approx 60 and slowly it dropped down to 45 and given an alarm. While the Spo2 remained 98
    When I checked the pulse manually it was approx 65 to 70 per minute.
    So please if you may clarify the above matter.

  3. Somanath.M.L

    October 31, 2020 at 12:36 pm

    I had tested with oximeter Spo2 test and it says 94 & 64 I had cold & cough is it is a symptoms of Corona or some lung infection please advise.

    Thanks & regards


  4. Shankar subramanian

    December 25, 2020 at 11:30 am

    I am also infected with covid19 and my pulse oximeter reading shows 98 spo2 and 69 pulse.

  5. Onsen

    January 9, 2021 at 9:21 pm

    The normal reading should be 95 and above. Below 92 must be monitored

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This website follows the DNPA Code of Ethics

© Copyright NDTV Convergence Limited 2024. All rights reserved.