A pulse oximeter is a device that determines the heart rate and level of oxygen in the blood which is expressed as the percentage of oxygen saturation. Pulse oximeters work by radiating light through the skin to the blood vessels below. Take note that these devices are regularly used in various healthcare facilities and readily available over-the-counter for home use.
If there is a high oxygen saturation usually close to 100%, it indicates that the red blood cells are packed with oxygen from the lungs.
How to use a finger pulse oximeter
- Switch on the pulse oximeter by pressing on the power switch on the device. The screen should light up right away.
- Position the sensor which is the part of the device that unfastens and closes similar to a clothespin on any finger along with the sensor screen right above the fingernail. In case the sensor is not built with a screen, run the cable along the rear of the finger or hand. Avoid using the thumb since the readings are not reliable than the readings from the fingers.
- Wait for a while as the pulse oximeter obtains a signal. This might take up to 10 seconds or more depending on the device used and any conditions. If possible, the individual should limit unnecessary movement during the measurement since it can reduce the accuracy of the results or can even cause an error message.
- Check the display to see the heart rate which is usually indicated with a heart or pulsing light. The percentage of the oxygen saturation is usually specified by the symbol “SpO2”. In most devices, they also have a pulse tone that produces a sound in time with the heart rate of the individual.
- Leave the sensor in place for continuous monitoring. Take note that the sensor can become annoying or initiate the development of pressure sores if left to stay on the finger too long. Make sure that you will regularly check and/or move the sensor at least every 2-4 hours. If only a single measurement is needed, remove the device and turn it off.
Considerations to bear in mind
The standard percent oxygen saturation reading is within the 95-100% range. In case the measurement indicates a low oxygen saturation, check for any indications of respiratory distress such as the following:
- Shortness of breath
- Difficulty breathing
- Bluish discoloration of the lips, face or fingernails
It is vital to seek medical care as soon as possible if the respiratory distress is new or causes discomfort, becomes worse or the reading from the pulse oximeter is below 90%.