Fingertip Pulse Oximeter – What They Can and Can’t Do
This medical device, called a pulse oximeter, measures the oxygen saturation in a person’s blood. They are portable, battery operated and good for home and travel use. They are particularly helpful for persons with respiratory or heart problems. Understanding what they can and can’t do and how to use one is important.
What they can do.
Use it to get a continuous reading of your oxygen saturation. Used in home healthcare environments as well as hospitals and clinics. They have the ability to provide immediate oxygen saturation readings which makes the pulse oximeter useful to emergency medical situations.
What they can’t do
They measure only the hemoglobin saturation and is not a complete measure of your respiratory efficiency. It doesn’t measure blood flow or the amount of hemoglobin in the blood. Blood tests are required to get a complete analysis. The oximeter may give you timely results, but only your doctor can accurately diagnose your medical needs.
How to use it
The oximeter is placed onto any finger (not the thumb) and clamps in a way similar to a clothes pin. With the display pointing up, place the oximeter on the finger tip over the nail. Turn the unit on. After about 10 seconds the display will show your oxygen saturation which is usually labeled “SpO2.” Your heart rate will also be displayed and may include a pulsing light or beep indicator. Generally, an SpO2 reading of 95 or above is desired. Readings of 95 to 90 is cause for concern and worthy of a call to your doctor. 90 and below and you need to get attention. Everyone is different with different health issues that effect the outcome. Your doctor can tell you what reading is preferred in your case.
Be careful not to move around too much or you may get an error reading. A bright light in the area of the oximeter may affect the reading as well. Poor blood flow to the finger will affect accuracy.
There are many different pulse oximeters on the market today. It is important to read the owner’s manual to understand the correct and intended use of the oximeter you have.
Pulse oximeters operate by projecting two wavelengths of light through the top of your nail and skin. Receptors on the underside of your finger receive the light. The difference is measured and your saturation level is displayed.
Sometimes it’s the “not-knowing” in a medical situation that causes additional worry and stress to the patient. The ability to know and monitor your oxygen saturation helps to give a person peace of mind.
However, heart and respiratory problems are very serious concerns. Always consult your doctor when you’re unsure.