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What’s a Pulse Oximeter? — Here’s Why You Need One at Home

Pulse oximeters have grown exponentially in popularity over the last couple of years due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Since the novel coronavirus is a respiratory disease, it lowers your blood oxygen saturation, which is what a pulse oximeter measures.

It’s a super portable device that looks similar to a large clothespin or a clip. It’s designed to fit your finger snugly inside and measure your heart rate and blood oxygen level in a matter of seconds. Healthy readings fluctuate between 95 to 98 percent, while people with respiratory health issues will get lower readings.

We’d suggest seeing your doctor if you continuously get SPO2 readings below 92. It also shows your heart rate, which should ideally be anywhere between 60 to 100 BPM (beats per minute). If you’re an athlete, don’t be surprised if your heart rate tends to stick around 60 or even lower — it’s actually a healthy sign!

In this article, I’ll tell you all you need to know about what a pulse oximeter is, how it works, and why you need one at home. Let’s get into it!

How Does It Work?

Pulse oximetry is a common means of medical data collection that’s common in both outpatient and inpatient settings. While many healthcare appointments involve taking a quick pulse oximeter reading, your doctor might also suggest having a pulse oximeter at home to take regular readings and maintain a log.

Taking a pulse oximeter is pretty simple. Here are the steps you need to follow:

  1. Remove any nail polish and rings from the finger you’re testing with.
  2. Make sure you keep your hand relaxed and below your heart level for a more accurate reading.
  3. Open up the pulse oximeter and fit it snugly around your fingertip (or earlobe).
  4. Wait for the device to monitor your SPO2 levels and pulse and display the results.
  5. Take note of the readings in your log and remove the device.

Now that we’ve got the steps out of the way, let’s talk about the science behind its functioning. Pulse oximetry involves small light beams passing through the blood in your finger. It measures the oxygenation of your blood based on the differences in light absorption between deoxygenated and oxygenated blood. For a more in-depth explanation, feel free to learn more about pulse oximeter.

Faulty Readings

Keep in mind that some pulse oximeters can also give a faulty reading. It might a calibration issue or you might just be using it incorrectly (such as holding it upside down and reading 96 as 69). If you ever get an abnormally low reading on your pulse oximeter, make sure to use it on other healthy family members to make sure if it’s just you who gets a low reading.

What If My Oxygen Level Falls Below 92?

Pulse oximeters have saved countless lives in the war against the novel coronavirus. Thanks to these devices, patients were able to notice a drop in their blood oxygenation in very early stages. Due to this, they were able to get timely medical attention before developing any serious breathing issues.

If your SPO2 reading consistently returns below 92, you should see your doctor. Thankfully, it’s a lot easier to bring your SPO2 levels up when they’ve just started to drop. Once they’re dangerously low, the treatment gets more complicated and the risks get higher.


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