Oxygen concentrators during COVID-19: What we need to know

As India battled the 2nd wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, the surge of new infections has resulted in an alarming increase in the number of active cases. The resultant stress on our public health infrastructure has led to a big spike in demand for oxygen concentrators.

So, what precisely are oxygen concentrators, when would they be required, how are they to be used? or not used? Here’s a quick lowdown on the same.

To survive, we need a steady supply of oxygen, flowing from our lungs to various cells in the body. COVID-19 is a respiratory disease that affects our lungs and can cause the oxygen level to drop to dangerous levels. In such a situation, we would need to undergo what is known as oxygen therapy – using oxygen for medical treatment, to enhance our oxygen levels to clinically acceptable levels

Oxygen level is measured by oxygen saturation, known briefly as SpO2. This is a measure of the amount of oxygen-carrying hemoglobin in the blood. A healthy individual with normal lungs will have an arterial oxygen saturation of 95% – 100%.

According to a WHO training manual on pulse oximetry, if the oxygen saturation is 94% or lower, the patient needs to be treated quickly. A saturation of less than 90% is a clinical emergency.

Now, according to the latest clinical guidelines for the management of adult COVID-19 patients, issued by the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, an oxygen concentration less than or equal to 93% on room air requires hospital admission, while that below 90% is classified as a severe disease, requiring admission in ICU. However, given the prevalent situation, we must do whatever we best can, in order to try and replenish our oxygen levels, in the event of delay or inability in getting hospital admission as per the clinical management protocol.

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