Those living with elderly people should pay attention to their respiration rate and should measure their blood oxygen levels, as people with very low blood oxygen levels are at risk of dying suddenly, a Taichung doctor said
“If your blood oxygen saturation drops below 96 percent and your respiration rate is greater than 20 breaths per minute, there is a problem, and you need to get to the hospital immediately,” Chung Shan Medical University Hospital physician Chuang Ming-lung (莊銘隆) said.
The Central Epidemic Command Center has advised people to seek medical assistance if their blood oxygen saturation is lower than 95 percent and their respiration rate is more than 30 breaths per minute.
However, Chuang said that such a situation is already too serious.
A blood oxygen saturation of less than 94 percent and a respiration rate of 30 breaths or more per second is defined as severe pneumonia, he said.
“At that point, you need a breathing tube inserted. Waiting until that point to send someone to the emergency room might be too late,” Chuang said, adding that leaving oxygen levels to get so low before seeking treatment might be the cause of the high COVID-19 fatality rate in Taiwan.
“Blood oxygen levels get lower with advanced age, but even in someone in their 60s or 70s, such low levels are cause for concern. It is better not to let the situation worsen before seeing a doctor,” he said.
A healthy person who intentionally breathes at a rate of 20 breaths per minute should have a blood oxygen saturation of 97 to 99 percent, but those with cardiovascular diseases or older than 75 would normally have a lower blood oxygen saturation and a higher breathing rate, he said.
One of the risks of COVID-19 is what doctors have called “happy hypoxia,” which is when a person with low oxygen levels describes themselves as feeling comfortable, Chuang said.
“Everyone has a different level of awareness of breathing difficulties, and some do not have any awareness of low oxygen levels at all,” he said.
Oximeters can be helpful for quick readings, but they are not always accurate, he said.
In related news, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Monday last week announced that Taiwanese nationals would be allowed to bring in or mail from abroad a medical oximeter for personal use.
The rule change is effective immediately through Dec. 31, amid high demand after multiple COVID-19 patients suddenly died due to low blood oxygen levels.
The FDA made the decision to permit “one oximeter per person” to assuage public complaints that medical oximeters people brought in or mailed from overseas were confiscated by customs officials.
However, if a package contains two or more medical oximeters, the person must seek FDA approval in advance, which requires a certificate of diagnosis, FDA Medical Devices and Cosmetics Division specialist Lin Hsin-hui (林欣慧) said, adding that the devices cannot be transferred or sold.
If the device is designed for sports related purposes, it does not have to be declared, she said.
Additional reporting by CNA
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