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COVID-19 | What are normal blood oxygen levels and other FAQs answered

Checking oxygen levels and temperature is essential for COVID-19 patients who are under home isolation.

April 23, 2021 / 02:22 PM IST
A medical worker (R) puts a pulse oximeter on a woman's finger to check her oxygen level during a door-to-door survey for the COVID-19 amidst its spread in Ahmedabad, India June 26, 2020 (REUTERS/Amit Dave)

A medical worker (R) puts a pulse oximeter on a woman's finger to check her oxygen level during a door-to-door survey for the COVID-19 amidst its spread in Ahmedabad, India June 26, 2020 (REUTERS/Amit Dave)

As the second wave of COVID-19 continues, several patients require supplemental oxygen, creating a huge demand for the gas in India.

The shortage of oxygen cylinders in many states has caused alarm since several COVID-19 patients in hospital have low oxygen levels and are finding it difficult to breathe.

COVID-19 affects the respiratory system, causing oxygen levels to drop. Many patients with moderate to severe COVID-19 experience shortness of breath.

Checking blood oxygen levels and temperature is essential for COVID-19 patients who are under home isolation. Here are some FAQs on oxygen levels and what to do if your oxygen levels are low.

What are normal oxygen levels? 

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A vaccine works by mimicking a natural infection. A vaccine not only induces immune response to protect people from any future COVID-19 infection, but also helps quickly build herd immunity to put an end to the pandemic. Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. The good news is that SARS-CoV-2 virus has been fairly stable, which increases the viability of a vaccine.

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There are broadly four types of vaccine — one, a vaccine based on the whole virus (this could be either inactivated, or an attenuated [weakened] virus vaccine); two, a non-replicating viral vector vaccine that uses a benign virus as vector that carries the antigen of SARS-CoV; three, nucleic-acid vaccines that have genetic material like DNA and RNA of antigens like spike protein given to a person, helping human cells decode genetic material and produce the vaccine; and four, protein subunit vaccine wherein the recombinant proteins of SARS-COV-2 along with an adjuvant (booster) is given as a vaccine.

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Vaccine development is a long, complex process. Unlike drugs that are given to people with a diseased, vaccines are given to healthy people and also vulnerable sections such as children, pregnant women and the elderly. So rigorous tests are compulsory. History says that the fastest time it took to develop a vaccine is five years, but it usually takes double or sometimes triple that time.

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According to the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, oxygen saturation of 95 to 100 percent is normal for healthy children and adults.

What is a pulse oximeter?

A pulse oximeter is a small device that measures the oxygen saturation or percentage of oxygen in the patient's blood. The device can be clipped on the toe or ear lobe.

COVID-19 patients under home isolation can use pulse oximeters to self-monitor their oxygen levels.

When to seek medical attention?

According to India's Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, a COVID-19 patient under home isolation should seek immediate medical attention if:

> Difficulty in breathing

> High-grade fever/severe cough, particularly if lasting for more than five days

> A low threshold to be kept for those at high risk of severe disease (those with co-morbidities such as hypertension and diabetes)

According to the health ministry, missing out on hypoxia (compromised oxygen circulation) can worsen complications faced by COVID-19 patients.

How does proning help?

The prone position, or lying face down (on the stomach) has been found to help improve oxygen levels. Proning helps keep alveolar units open and makes breathing easier.

The health ministry on April 22 also released guidelines for proning.

"Proning is required only when the patient feels difficulty in breathing and the SpO2 decreases below 94 (less than 94)," the ministry said.

The ministry recommended that one pillow can be placed below the neck, one or two pillows below the chest and upper thighs, and two below the shins.

Dr Praveen Gupta, director and head of department, neurology, Fortis Memorial Research Institute, Gurugram told The Indian Express that proning has been used on patients with severe respiratory illness.

Gupta added that proning should be complemented with other necessary treatments as well.
Ruchira Kondepudi
first published: Apr 23, 2021 02:22 pm

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