(NBC News) – Doctors are noticing an alarming new trend in some coronavirus cases: Patients with dangerously low oxygen levels who show no outward signs of difficulty breathing.
It can be treated with supplemental oxygen and diagnosed with a simple device sold over-the-counter, but health experts are urging caution for those considering using one without medical supervision.
The condition is known as “silent hypoxia.”
“They’re not complaining of any shortness of breath and they look comfortable. But when their oxygen level is checked as part of their vitals signs in the emergency room, doctors are reporting much lower levels than what they would expect,” explains Dr. Albert Rizzo, chief medical officer of the American Lung Association.
Normal oxygen saturation is 95 to 97 percent, but doctors are seeing some COVID-19 patients with levels around 75 percent or even lower.
That sets them up for more difficult recoveries, or worse.
“It can affect the brain, it can affect the heart, kidneys, the liver,” Dr. Rizzo says.
Hospitals and emergency rooms are increasingly sending mild or moderate patients home with pulse oximeters.
University Hospitals Cleveland is using this medical-grade disposable device that allows for remote monitoring.
“We’ve seen in about ten percent of patients, if their oxygen goes low we call them and say ‘Go to the hospital, you need some interventions’,” says Dr. Peter Pronovost.
Pulse oximeters are available at drugstores and online, but health experts caution against rushing out to buy one.
Not all are created equal.
The devices also aren’t recommended as an initial screening tool for coronavirus.
Instead, health experts say watch for more common symptoms like fever, cough and body ache.
Read more: https://on.today.com/3evotrv