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Pulse oximeters still in demand, but should be treated as a tool

Updated: Dec. 22, 2020 at 9:56 PM CST
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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - The demand for a device called a pulse oximeter has surged since March, and websites show many local drugstores are out of them right now.

People with COVID-19 are using them to check their blood oxygen levels, but they can provide a false sense of security.

The American Lung Association issued a warning to people using pulse oximeters to understand that even a healthy oxygen level doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t need further medical care.

The devices range from about $20 to $200 and they aren’t entirely foolproof either, with new research reported by the New York Times indicating minorities may experience inaccurate readings from the devices, which use a laser to measure oxygenation.

But for those battling COVID-19 at home, it’s another tool in the toolkit.

“It’s not something every patient needs, not something to hoard, but it is something that can be useful if you are a high risk patient, recently tested positive and are experiencing a shortness of breath and difficulty breathing,” said Becky Stewart with Mainstreet Family Urgent Care.

If you are using one and your number dips below 95, that’s when to call your doctor or seek emergency medical care.

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