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A pulse oximeter is a small device which clips onto your finger that measures your blood oxygen level and pulse rate. They are useful for monitoring Sleep Apnoea, Asthma, COPD, or even COVID-19. Pulse oximeters are also useful for measuring oxygen saturation in your blood before and after exercise and operations. Although most commonly seen in medical clinics, pulse oximeters are a useful device to have at home for easy monitoring of your oxygen saturation level.
How does a pulse oximeter work?
Pulse oximeters usually have a small clamp which gently clips onto a patient’s finger (or earlobe or toe in some cases). Small light beams are shone through the finger to measure how much oxygen is present in the blood. Oxygenated and deoxygenated blood absorb light differently, so the difference in the light can be used to measure how much of the blood is carrying oxygen. This is also how the finger pulse measurement is taken. It is a painless procedure.
Please note that pulse oximetry measures oxygen saturation and pulse rate – not blood pressure. Patients who need to regularly check their blood pressure will need a blood pressure monitor instead. Most blood pressure monitors also measure pulse rate.
What should your oxygen saturation levels be?
For a healthy adult without lung problems, a reading between 95-100% is a normal oxygen saturation range. This means that 95-100% of your blood cells are carrying oxygen. A level of 92% could indicate that oxygen is not reaching tissues in the body as well as it should. However, for those with an underlying lung diseases, lower readings may be common. If you are concerned by your results, contact your doctor.
How do I use a pulse oximeter to check my oxygen saturation?
We have created a friendly guide on how to use most at-home pulse oximeters. Please consult the manufacturer’s instructions for your pulse oximeter for more specific directions and maintenance requirements.
- Press the power button to turn on your device. You may need to insert batteries into your pulse oximeter first. You should see a red light shining if it has been turned on. If not, the device may be faulty or have low battery life.
- Open the clamp and clip the device to your finger, preferably your middle finger. You should be able to open the clamp by squeezing the top of the oximeter, and letting go to release the clamp or clamp it shut. Please note that your finger should be fully inserted into the probe or rubber hole, with the light shining directly onto the nail surface of your finger.
- Try to sit still, and wait until the pulse oximeter registers a stable reading.
- Take note of your blood oxygen level and your finger pulse measurement. Your oxygen saturation level should be the number next to the %SpO2 symbol, and your pulse rate should be the number near a symbol such as BPM (beats per minute) or PR (pulse rate).
- Log your readings, making a note of any downtrends and how you were feeling at the time
If you are concerned by any of your results, please contact your doctor.
Is it accurate?
Pulse oximetry is a fairly accurate measurement – most oximeters are accurate within a 2-percent difference. However different devices will vary in their accuracy. Make sure you are using a TGA-approved pulse oximeter, otherwise the result may not be accurate due to the quality of the device.
To achieve an accurate measurement, you also need to make sure you are using your pulse oximeter correctly. The result may not be accurate otherwise. To achieve the most accurate reading with your pulse oximeter:
- Use your middle finger for the reading
- Make sure your nail surface is free of any nail polish
- Avoid using it on cold finger (make sure they are room temperature)
- Sit during your reading, and avoid moving too much
- Make sure you are using a TGA approved oximeter
Most oximeters also use batteries, and so users should take care to note the battery life and replace the batteries when they are running low. Asides from these battery changes, pulse oximeters generally need limited maintenance.
Pulse oximetry and monitoring COVID-19
The COVID-19 virus attacks lung cells, causing air sacs in the lungs to collapse and your blood oxygen levels to fall. This results in the common symptoms of COVID-19: fever, shortness of breath, tiredness and other flu-like symptoms. However, many doctors have reported that some patients are presenting with dangerously low oxygen levels without any sensation of breathlessness. Unfortunately, these patients can go untreated for longer with serious damage to their lungs. Pulse oximetry offers a safe and easy solution to this problem. COVID-19 patients or suspected cases can use a pulse oximeter at home to monitor any decline in their blood oxygen levels which might indicate damage to the lungs, even if they aren’t experiencing other respiratory symptoms. Many hospitals have now implemented the use of home pulse oximeters to help follow up with their patients.
The CPAP Clinic has a range of TGA-approved pulse oximeters available, from reliable brands such as HeartSure. To find out more about our pulse oximeters, we have clinicians able to assist you. We can be contacted by calling 1300 76 29 39 or emailing us on email@example.com.