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Fingertip Pulse Oximeter: How it works [COMPLETE GUIDE]

In the time of global pandemic, every person with medical illness needs extra care. Coronavirus has struck the world in the most vulnerable way. Everyday the covid19 cases are increasing and we are stuck at home for our safety. It doesn’t seem to end anytime soon. There are many sick people who go to hospital with issues of breathlessness, so the experts have recommended to use relatively inexpensive device which you can use at home – Pulse Oximeter.

What is a Pulse Oximeter?

Pulse Oximeter definition: Pulse Oximeter is a device that measures the oxygen saturation in your blood. The percentage is a calculation of how much oxygen is in your blood, where 100% means fully saturated optimum level, 95% as pulse oximeter normal reading and below 95% you will feel discomfort and have symptoms like breathlessness and it is advisable to seek medical care.

It is a non-invasive and painless measure, even the ones who have fear of needles should not worry to determine the oxygen level in their blood.

Who should use it

The Fingertip Pulse Oximeter is a non-invasive measure to check oxygen level in blood. So anyone can use it, especially an individual with any condition which can cause respiratory distress. Some of these conditions are:

Other than the people with medical illness, Athletes and sports professionals use Fingertip Pulse Oximeters to examine their increased fitness routine and exercise, whether it is good for their health or not. 

Most Common Uses of Pulse Oximetry

There are different reasons to measure oxygen level of blood. Different people use it for different purposes. Some of the most common purposes are:

  • To know your new lung medicines are working or not
  • To examine if someone needs help in breathing
  • To evaluate an individual’s ability to continue any new exercise routine
finger pulse oximeters

How it Works

For a reading on a pulse oximeter, a small device is clipped to your finger, toe or earlobe. Pulse oximeter uses a red or infra-red light that passes through the blood in the finger, which measures the amount of oxygen in the blood. 

Many other testing methods require the use of needle, surgery and IVs, Pulse oximeter requires none of these, it is a non-invasive and painless measure, even the ones who have fear of needles should not have to  worry in determining the oxygen level in the blood. It can also be used on new born babies, children and senior citizens. Modern fingertip pulse oximeters show readings in just a few seconds immediately.

Many digital Fingertip Pulse Oximeters also show your pulse rate along with the oxygen saturation levels.

3 Steps to take readings

Follow these 3 steps to get the accurate readings on pulse oximeters:

  1. Position the probe on a clean surface like finger, toe or earlobes.
  2. Clip the oximeter as long as it takes to monitor your oxygen saturation and pulse rate.
  3. Once it shows the reading, remove the clip.
Note – Some pulse oximeters come with bluetooth connectivity, it shows the readings on the bluetooth device which you have connected to it like phones or laptops.

Things to avoid while taking readings

Many people don’t know how does pulse oximeter work and make mistakes in taking readings.There are few things which can affect the readings on Fingertip Pulse Oximeter so avoid these while taking readings:

  • Try to position probe correctly, too loose or too tight can allow extra light and affect the readings.
  • Don’t shake or shiver, it can affect the reading, and may display much lower than it actually is.
  • Don’t clip it on finger with colored nails or henna
  • Fingertip Pulse Oximeter readings can be affected by cold fingers
  • Always clip on clean surface

Pulse Oximeter readings

Pulse oximeters show fairly accurate results. 95% to 100% is considered as pulse oximeter normal range. It consistently shows readings within a difference of 2% more or less. Suppose your pulse oximeter shows the reading of 96%, then your true oxygen saturation level may lie between 94% to 98%. Cold fingers, nail polish or movements can affect the accuracy of results.

According to the WHO pulse oximeter readings chart, Oxygen saturation level of 95% is considered normal for healthy individuals. Below 92% shows potential of deficiency in oxygen reaching tissues in your body or potential hypoxemia, a condition where oxygen level is abnormally low in your blood.

Some of the digital pulse oximeters come with the audio-visual alarms which notify you if the results get out of normal range. Mostly, the pulse oximeters range of accuracy is between 35% to 100%.

Once the test is over you will get the readings immediately, it will help you determine whether the individual requires any other treatments or not. Your health specialist will be able to tell you the further steps and how often you need to take readings on pulse oximetry.

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