Learn how to be your own medic.
During the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, there are 4 medical tools you can have at home to help you and your doctor decide if you need to go to the Emergency Room (ER).
If you experience a sudden or significant shortness of breath you should go to ER immediately. Otherwise, it might not be clear whether your symptoms are severe enough to warrant a trip to the ER, and going to the ER poses its own risks that you might want to avoid if you can. If your symptoms—or those of a family member—fall short of those clearly requiring a trip to the ER, the first thing you should do is to call or teleconference with your physician in order to determine the seriousness of the symptoms.
To prepare for that consultation, here are four lifesaving medical tools you might want to buy for home use:
1. A pulse oximeter to check your oxygen saturation level and your heart rate at home.
If you are concerned that you might grow short of breath, you can buy a device (or mobile APP) that determines if your blood is getting enough oxygen from your lungs. To assess whether your blood oxygen is getting too low, you can buy an FDA approved pulse oximeter online, or an FDA- approved mobile app that is easy to use on the tip of a finger.
Learn how to check the oxygen saturation of your blood twice a day — every morning when you get up and every evening before dinner — regardless of how you are feeling. Your blood oxygen saturation should be 95% or more; if it used to be over 95% and now it is less than 95%, check it again 5 minutes later. If your blood oxygen saturation is still too low after 5 minutes, contact your doctor as soon as possible. If you have difficulty breathing, go to the ER immediately.
Be aware that some people infected with coronavirus could feel good the first few days despite having a fever and cough but, at day 9 or 10 they can suddenly get worse and complain of difficulty breathing, like what happened with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Difficulty breathing is a medical emergency requiring hospitalization.
The pulse oximeter will also indicate your heart rate. Your resting heart rate should be between 60 and 100 beats per minute, but if you are a trained athlete, your normal resting heart rate could go as low as 50.
© Dr. Chris Gilbert, MD, PhD