How the Wider Use of Pulse Oximeters May be the Key to Saving Lives Due to COVID-19 Pneumonia

The American Lung Association explains that, “The pulse oximeter, or Pulse Ox, is an electronic device that measures the saturation of oxygen carried in your red blood cells.” In a recent article published in the New York Times, emergency room physician, Dr. Richard Levitan, described his experience working with COVID-19 patients, realizing that most of the deaths were possibly due to a condition called “silent hypoxia,” and that wider use of pulse oximeters may be key to saving lives.

Dr. Levitan explained that “Covid pneumonia initially causes a form of oxygen deprivation we call ‘silent hypoxia’ – ‘silent’ because of its insidious, hard-to-detect nature.” He continued, “Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs in which the air sacs fill with fluid or pus. Normally, patients develop chest discomfort, pain with breathing and other breathing problems. But when Covid pneumonia first strikes, patients do not feel short of breath, even as their oxygen levels falls. And by the time they do, they have alarmingly low oxygen levels and moderate-to-severe pneumonia (as seen on chest x-rays).” According to Dr. Levitan, “Silent hypoxia progressing rapidly to respiratory failure explains cases of COVID-19 patients dying suddenly after not feeling short of breath.”

“Covid-19 overwhelmingly kills through the lungs,” said Dr. Levitan, “And because so many patients are not going to the hospital until their pneumonia is already well advanced, many wind up on ventilators, causing shortages of the machines. And once on ventilators, many die.”  Dr. Levitan’s solution is detecting silent hypoxia early using the pulse oximeter which is a quite common medical device that can be purchased at most pharmacies without a prescription. This device is easy to use by simply placing on the fingertip and waiting a few seconds for a digital reading. Both oxygen saturation and pulse rate are displayed. This can be an early indication that something is wrong even before a positive COVID-19 test. Coordination with your physician is advised.

To speak with a healthcare provider at Primary Medical Care Center & Urgent Care Clinic to assess any non-emergency health concerns, including suspected COVID-19 symptoms, please call (305)751-1500 for our Miami-Dade clinic or (954)289-0000 for our Broward clinic. For life-threatening emergencies, always call 911. For coronavirus updates and resources, please visit our website at