U.S. News: Used to Gauge COVID Severity, Pulse Oximeters Can Be Inaccurate on Darker Skin
Pulse oximeters are portable devices used to measure blood oxygen levels. Recently, people have been using them to monitor COVID-19 which is often characterized by low blood oxygen levels. However, a recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that Black patients had almost three times the frequency of occult hypoxemia which refers to low blood oxygen levels detected by arterial blood gas analysis but not by pulse oximetry. Skin pigmentation, skin thickness, blood circulation, use of nail polish, and skin temperature can all affect the accuracy of the pulse oximeter reading. Pulse oximeters have limitations, vary in accuracy, and should not be the primary means of making a clinical diagnosis. Contact your healthcare provider if you are concerned about your pulse oximeter readings or think you have COVID-19. Read the article by Ernie Mundell and Cara Murez on U.S. News here.