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3 Useful At-Home Medical Devices for COVID-19

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Chances are, if your doctor determines you likely have a mild case of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, you’ll be told to isolate at home and call if your condition worsens. This helps keep limited hospital beds open for critically ill patients and prevents the spread of COVID-19. There isn’t a definitive treatment for COVID-19 yet, so most of the recommendations for a mild case of COVID-19 will be similar to how you would manage a cold or the flu.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers several recommendations for if you’re dealing with a COVID-19 infection at home. These include many of the basics, including consuming plenty of fluids, eating nutritious foods, getting lots of rest, regularly cleaning and disinfecting as well as keeping face masks, pain or cold meds, and tissues on hand. Some at-home medical devices, however, have gained popularity for their potential use in monitoring or fighting COVID-19.

Many people have caught on about the potential benefit of these medical devices, so they will be hard to buy right now (like thermometers and pulse oximeters). However, if you’ve lived with a chronic health condition, you may already have many of these because of your symptoms or past procedures. Always check with your doctor before using a medical device for a new purpose.

Here’s what might be useful to monitor your health if you’re worried about COVID-19:

1. Thermometer

Though not everyone who gets COVID-19 will have a fever, it’s still one of the main symptoms doctors look for if you’re concerned about an infection. Monitoring your temperature with a thermometer, a tool many people already have at home, can help you keep track of your symptoms. Fever signals that your immune system is working to fight off an infection, which is why it’s a symptom to watch for.

It’s important to note that your “normal” temperature may be different than the average 98.6°F (37°C), either slightly higher or lower. If you’re concerned you may have a fever, reach out to your doctor with questions or to better understand your baseline temperature. In addition, not everyone who gets COVID-19 will have a fever — the virus causes a wide range of symptoms — so call your doctor if you have other symptoms without a fever or other concerns about COVID-19.

2. Pulse Oximeter

Thanks to COVID-19, pulse oximeters are having a moment. The device slips on your finger and measures the oxygen levels in your red blood cells. According to the American Lung Association, your oxygen saturation rate is considered “good” if it’s at 90 to 92% or higher, and most healthy people would measure between 95 to 97%. At around 75% saturation, people typically lose consciousness.

Reports suggest that COVID-19’s impact on the lungs can cause people’s oxygen levels in the blood to drop, sometimes without realizing it. Called silent or “happy” hypoxia, doctors are seeing patients who show up with dangerously low oxygen saturation levels but no other major signs of distress. Low oxygen levels in the blood can damage your organs, including your heart and brain. A pulse oximeter can help you keep track of your oxygen saturation levels.

“Besides thermometers to track temperatures, oximeters to track oxygen saturation,” Hugh Cassiere, M.D., director of respiratory services at North Shore University Hospital, told The Mighty. “It would be good to measure oxygenation during activities to evaluate for drops in oxygen saturation during routine levels of activity and exercise.”

Like with any other home medical device, you should not rely on a pulse oximeter as the sole way to monitor your condition. Call your doctor with concerns and watch for other symptoms. American Lung Association Chief Medical Officer Albert Rizzo, M.D., said in a statement that at-home reliance on these devices can create a “false sense of security” for patients. He added that if you don’t already own a pulse oximeter, check with your doctor first before buying one.

3. Humidifier

Humidifiers are a device that can help add moisture to a room’s air through water mist, though many models are now waterless and use ultrasonic vibration instead. Added humidity levels in the room can make it easier for you to breathe by moistening your nasal passageways and throat. The CDC recommends using a humidifier to ease symptoms from the coronaviruses that cause a common cold.

Humidifiers do come with their own health risks. If you have a model that uses water or scented oils and it’s not properly cleaned and cared for, it can develop mold. Mold and bacteria growth can spread allergens and make respiratory symptoms worse. Ideal humidity is typically between 30 and 50%, and like always, check with your doctor for recommendations about using a humidifier at home.

The Takeaway

If you’re experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, including fever, shortness of breath or a cough, reach out to your doctor right away. They will help determine the cause of your symptoms and provide direction for COVID-19 testing and what to do if they recommend you manage the illness at home. Before using any new medical device, talk with your doctor to understand what you should know first and best practices for using each device correctly.

And because it can be scary to be facing COVID-19 symptoms in isolation, Dr. Cassiere also reminded patients to keep their technology handy to keep in digital communication with those they love and mitigate the mental health impact of COVID-19.

“Another item that may be helpful is a communication device, like an iPad-iPhone, for interacting with family and friends to help pass the time, allow human-human interactions and to help the person feel connected to the outside world,” said Cassiere.

Header image via HABesen/Getty Images

Originally published: May 6, 2020
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