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WHAT IS PULSE OXIMETRY?
WHAT IS PULSE OXIMETRY?
Pulse oximetry is the measurement of the percentage of hemoglobin that is saturated with oxygen. This measurement is critical in assessing the severity of COVID-19. 

The highest pulse oximetry reading is 100% and the lowest reading is 0%.  The higher level of oxygen that is present in the blood (partial pressure of oxygen), the higher the oxygen saturation will be.  However, the relationship between the oxygen saturation and the pressure of oxygen is not linear. Rather it is curved as shown below.

The relationship between oxygen saturation 
and oxygen pressure is curved, not linear.

The relationship between oxygen saturation 
and oxygen pressure is curved, not linear.

(https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hb_saturation_curve.png)

THE IMPORTANCE OF THE CURVE SHAPE.
THE IMPORTANCE OF THE CURVE SHAPE.
A change in partial pressure at the flat part of the curve will not change the oxygen saturation significantly. As an example, a change from an oxygen pressure from 120 mm Hg (millimeters of mercury as a measure of pressure) to 80 mm will result in only a modest change in oxygen saturation. This is illustrated in the diagram below.

A change in flat part of the curve doesn't 
affect the oxygen saturation that much.

A change in flat part of the curve doesn't 
affect the oxygen saturation significantly.

However, a change in the steep portion of the curve can have a dramatic change in the oygen saturation. As illustrated in the diagram below, the same amount of decrease in partial pressure of oxygen can have a dramatic change in the oxygen saturation  curve. 

A change in steep part of the curve dramatically 
affects the oxygen saturation.

A change in steep part of the curve dramatically 
affects the oxygen saturation.

THE TAKE HOME LESSON.
THE TAKE HOME LESSON.
A person may still feel relatively well if the oxygen saturation decreased from 100% to 93% which is a 7 point difference. However, a 7 point difference from 93% to 86% can have a dramatic impact on the curve making it difficult for the person to function let alone breathe. 

In general, people who are otherwise healthy should have an oxygen saturation reading (commonly known as a pulse-ox reading) of 95% or higher. Our pulse oximetry reading is just like any other vital sign in that in can fluctuate but should generally be within a narrow healthy range. 

People who have chronic lung disease such as emphysema from smoking or acute lung disease such as pneumonia can have low pulse-ox reading. The lethality of COVID-19 is the inability of the lung to get adequate oxygen. This results in a whole host of problems with the rest of the bodily functions resulting in severe metabolic abnormalities and eventual death.
HOW TO USE A PULSE OXIMETER (3 minutes)
HOW TO USE A PULSE OXIMETER (3 minutes)

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