- Pulse oximeters are valuable tools for checking oxygen levels in your blood, but they’re not constantly accurate.
- Prescription pulse oximeters have been tested & reviewed by the FDA, and they are more reliable than over-the-counter (OTC) devices.
- If you have deeper skin, your pulse oximeter reading may not be as accurate.
- Don’t rely singularly on pulse oximeter readings to assess oxygen levels. Track other indications as well.
If you have COVID-19 or other lung diseases like asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), your healthcare provider may suggest that you monitor your oxygen levels at home including a pulse oximeter. A pulse oximeter estimates the amount of oxygen in your blood and alarms you if your levels drop beneath what’s considered normal.
But pulse oximeters aren’t constantly accurate. According to the FDA, several factors can influence accuracy, including poor circulation, skin thickness, smoking, plus even fingernail polish. What’s more, a recent report recommends that your reading may not be as accurate if you have deeper skin, too.
Here, we’ll cover how to use a pulse oximeter, how to evaluate results, and while to see your healthcare provider.
What is a pulse oximeter?
A pulse oximeter is a small device that decreases to your finger or earlobe and meters the amount of oxygen saturation in your red blood cells (called SpO2). This important tool has gained popularity over the past year to help identify warning signs of COVID-19. This is because low oxygen is a dangerous symptom of the disease & means that you should receive medical attention.
Many people ordered the device online or picked one up at the pharmacy so they could hold their oxygen levels at home. But not all pulse oximeters are designed equal — there’s a big distinction between a prescription device and one that you can obtain over the counter (OTC).
Prescription pulse oximeters: These experience testing to make sure that they are accurate, and have been reviewed by the FDA. They’re typically used in healthcare environments like your provider’s office or a hospital. However, your provider may appoint one for home use.
OTC pulse oximeters: These are sold online or in stores without a prescription. They’re not reviewed by the FDA plus should not be used for medical missions.
How do I take a pulse oximeter reading?
If your provider orders a pulse oximeter, ask them to reveal to you how to use it, when to take a reading, & how often. For most maximum healthy people, your reading will generally fall within 95% and 100% (but this can vary, which we’ll cover following). Jot down your numbers in a notebook with the date & time to track your readings.
Here are basic directions for most oximeters:
- Before you trim the device on your finger, make sure your hand is mild and your fingernail is free of polish. While you clip it on, you may feel a small pinch or pressure, but very scarce to no pain.
- Relax your hand underneath heart level and sit still. Then turn on the device.
- In just a matter of seconds, the oximeter will bestow you your pulse plus oxygen levels.