How To Use A Finger Pulse Oximeter At Home

You know that little device that goes on your finger at your doctor’s office or the hospital – it shines a red light and gives a reading back. This is known as a finger pulse oximeter, and the device measures the amount of oxygen in your blood and gives a reading for your heart rate. The light goes into blood vessels and provides a reading of how much oxygen is in the red blood cells.

If you have a high oxygen saturation – somewhere near 100 percent – it means your red blood cells are filled with a plethora of oxygen.

COVID-19 and SpO2 (blood oxygen)

The important health information that can be monitored using a Finger Pulse Oximeter has never been more important.  Doctors have identified  that the Covid-19 virus affects the lungs adversely, which can result in a decrease in partial pressure of oxygen in the blood. Reduction in blood oxygen (SpO2) can lead to more complications and hence tracking this level can be an early indicator of potentially serious implications.

If a patient has COVID-19, the pulse oximeter is a method of monitoring oxygen saturation in the early stages of the disease when the patient may not have any signs of breathlessness. For a healthy person, the normal oxygen saturation reading in blood is between 96 and 100 percent, when taken with one of these devices.

5 Steps To Use A Home Finger Pulse Oximeter Successfully

  1. Hit the power button on the pulse oximeter to turn it on. The screen should immediately light up.
  2. Put the sensor on any finger with the sensor going above the fingernail. If there’s no screen on the sensor, the cable needs to run along the back of the hand or finger. Never use the thumb, as the readings tend to be less dependable.
  3. Be quiet while the pulse oximeter is working. This can take at least 10 seconds, but the length of time it takes will depend on the conditions and device. Try to stay as still as possible to ensure accuracy or you may get an error message.
  4. Read the display to find the heart rate (usually seen with a pulsing light or heart). SpO2 will give you the oxygen saturation level. There are some devices that have a pulse tone that will beep with the heart rate rhythm.
  5. Keep the sensor on to monitor regularly. It’s not uncommon for a sensor to become uncomfortable or result in pressure sores. Be sure you move the sensor every couple of hours to keep the discomfort down. If you just need one measurement, take the sensor off and hit the power button to turn it off.

2 Things You Need To Understand About Finger Pulse Oximeter Readings

• A 95 to 99 percent pulse ox reading is normal. If the measurement is lower than this, keep a watch out for respiratory distress signs such as wheezing, shortness of breath, problems breathing or bluish discoloration of the lips, face or fingernails.

• If there are signs of respiratory distress, get medical help immediately. The expected oxygen saturation in blood as measured by finger pulse oximeter sensors is 96-100 per cent, depending upon the age and any chronic lung disease of patient. If the pulse oximeter reads under 90 percent, get help right away.


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This post was originally published in December 2018.


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