One of the main symptoms of COVID-19 is low levels of oxygen in a person’s blood, even when they feel fine. So when the pandemic started spreading, doctors would always measure your blood oxygen levels with a pulse oximeter: a special clip attached to your finger or ear.
But soon, you will be able to do it at home with the same accuracy. All you’ll need is the device you use for taking selfies or mindlessly scrolling through Instagram in bed. That’s right – your phone.
University of Washington and University of California San Diego researchers recently published a proof-of-principle study which shows that smartphones are capable of detecting blood oxygen saturation levels down to 70%. s recommended by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, this is also the lowest value pulse oximeters should be able to measure. So, this concept could be quite a breakthrough and make lives of both patients and doctors easier.
The principle is fairly simple. You need to place your finger over your phone’s camera and flash. It then uses a deep-learning algorithm to read out your blood oxygen levels. “When the team delivered a controlled mixture of nitrogen and oxygen to six subjects to artificially bring their blood oxygen levels down, the smartphone correctly predicted whether the subject had low blood oxygen levels 80% of the time,” UW News reports. The researchers published their results in npj Digital Medicine.
Normal oxygen saturation is between 95 and 100% in healthy people. If it drops to 90% or below, it’s considered low (hypoxemia) and a person needs medical attention. The blood oxygen saturation could drop due to COVID-19, but also asthma, bronchitis, pneumonia, and other medical conditions. Most (if not all) smart watches and fitness bands are also capable of measuring blood oxygen levels, but it appears that smartphone cameras could be more accurate. So, you can simply use your phone if you suspect you’ve contracted coronavirus, or if you suffer from any other medical condition that could lower your blood oxygen levels. This way you can discover the problem timely and seek medical help before any damage is done.
[via UW News]