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Finger Pulse Oximeter

A pulse oximeter is a medical device that provides a measurement of the amount of oxygen in the blood without taking a physical blood sample. It gives a reading of the oxygen saturation (shortened to O₂sat or SaO₂ or SpO₂) levels and the pulse rate.

Generally, the small device attaches to a toe or a finger with a clip. Another type of pulse oximetry connects with a probe to the earlobe, toe or finger. They both work in the same way.

These devices can be used in hospital settings, doctors offices, or even at home for your own personal use. It can come in handy to use it at home if you need to monitor yourself for a longer period of time. It's also sometimes recommended to use at home by your physician, so that they can keep a closer eye on you and have you track down your results at all times.

They might want to have you monitor yourself during the day, at night to rule out any possible sleep disorders, or they might want you to wear it at all times. Sometimes, you might only need to do a quick reading. It all depends on the instructions that your doctor has given you.


If you've ever been seen in a hospital, then you've probably had your heart rate monitored. The device they use to place on your finger, or toe to check your pulse is very similar to the device that's used to check your blood oxygen levels. You will always get your levels checked if you experience a medical emergency, such as a heart attack or heart failure.

It's also commonly used on patients with asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and any other lung disease. It's important to keep track of any changes occuring in the amount of oxygen your body is making, as well as the amount of oxygen being sent to your extremities. A lack of oxygen can indicate hypoxia. This can cause tissue damage, tissue death, or in some cases it can even cause organ failure. That's why it's so important to track your levels if you or your doctor suspect low blood oxygen levels.



How Does a Pulse Oximeter Work?

It starts off by passing beams of light through your blood to measure the amount of oxygen in it. This is a noninvasive way of testing your levels.

You won't be able to feel the small beams of light being passed through your blood. Think of it as a scanner. If you've ever used a copy machine before, then you know it's noninvasive. It simply takes images of whatever you place on the sensor.


Well, the sensor on your finger pulse oximetry works in a similar fashion. While it doesn't take images of your body, it does detect any sudden changes in your blood oxygen levels, and is a painless process.

This will help your healthcare provider to rule out any potential problems that could be caused from a lack of oxygen. A healthy oxygen level should be 95 or above. Anything lower than this can indicate a problem and might lead to health complications if it's not properly treated.


Depending on the causes of low oxygen levels, you might be given medication for it, or you could be required to use this device at home to closely monitor your condition. You might also like the convenience and added security that this device will bring you. It will give you the confidence you need to know that you're body is functioning as well as it should be, and will help you to alert your doctor of any concerning test results.


Red blood cells carry oxygen from the lungs around the body. Red blood cells are red because they contain the hemoglobin molecule. Each hemoglobin molecule can carry four oxygen molecules and this is the maximum blood oxygen level.

The oxygen saturation level is the ratio of actual oxygen carried by the hemoglobin to the maximum amount of oxygen, expressed as a percentage. The color of the blood changes with the amount of oxygen attaching to the hemoglobin. Two beams of light shine through the toe, finger or earlobe. One is a visible red light and the other is invisible infrared light.


The focus for oxygen measurement is arterial blood, but the light beams will pass through venous blood, skin, muscle, and bone. The change in the light absorbed is measured over a pulse — the arterial blood pulses in time with the heart contractions – the heartbeat.

The pulse oximeter provides an oxygen saturation reading (an average over several pulses) and a pulse rate. You can check that the pulse ox is getting a good signal by taking your pulse rate manually and comparing it to the device reading. No difference between the two readings indicates a good signal and gives confidence in the oxygen saturation reading.



Why Might I Need Pulse Oximetry?

Common reasons for needing your blood oxygen levels checked are due to underlying medical conditions. These can include anything from lung diseases, sleep disorders, chronic health problems, heart conditions and many more. One of the most common reasons for tracking night breathing, are for those suffering with a medical condition called sleep apnea.

This means that during sleep, you stop breathing for moments at a time, which causes a drop in your blood oxygen levels. This can lead to dangerously low levels, that could even cause brain damage or death.


That's why if you suspect sleep apnea, you should always seek help right away. In the meantime, you can use your own device to keep track of it yourself. There are sleep tests that can be run while your sleeping. You would stay in a monitored environment overnight with a specialist keeping track of your oxygen levels while your asleep.

However, if you're not sure you feel comfortable with the idea of being monitored during your sleep, then this is a more private way of keeping track of your levels on your own. You can share the results with your doctor as soon as you have sufficient enough notes for them to look at. They might want you to track yourself overnight, or for several nights.


Other common uses are for those with heart conditions, such as heart attack or heart failure. It's always important to monitor your oxygen levels after something like this happens. It's also just as important for patients with lung conditions, or diseases to keep track of their levels as well. You want to be sure that your body is functioning as well as it should be, especially after experiencing a medical emergency.

Also, if you've recently had surgery, your healthcare provider will want to monitor you closely as well. This is all done to prevent any further damage from being done due to low oxygen levels, as well as making sure that your health is not at risk.



When Do You Need a Pulse Oximeter?

Prescribing a pulse oximetry may be necessary to manage the treatment of some health conditions that result in a lowering of the oxygen saturation level in your blood.

1. Lung Problems
Damaged lungs don’t put as much oxygen into the blood as healthy lungs. You may need to monitor oxygen saturation levels with a fingertip pulse oximeter to decide when you need to use supplemental oxygen.

Damaged lungs can result from disease or surgery. Difficulties in breathing from asthma or pneumonia can lower the amount of oxygen available to the blood supply. A pulse oximetry may help in monitoring the condition and determining the effectiveness of treatment if you are taking a new medicine.
Monitoring with a finger pulse oximeter can help assess your need for help with breathing or if a ventilator is beneficial. If you start supplemental oxygen, the device will help track the amount required and the impact.


2. Heart Problems
Heart attacks, congenital heart defects, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and any other problem with heart function can result in reduced blood flow and less oxygen. A pulse oximetry is a non-invasive way of monitoring health through oxygen saturation levels.

There are times when a finger pulse oximetry is a straightforward way of assessing how effective a treatment is or if changes are necessary to improve health outcomes.


3. Other Events
Most surgical procedures with sedation use an oximeter to check oxygen saturation during the surgery and then for a time afterward. Physical exercise uses up the oxygen in the blood; for most people, this isn’t problematic, but some may benefit from monitoring to assess how much physical activity they can manage.

During a sleep test for Sleep Apnea, a pulse oximetry identifies moments when you stop breathing because of the lower oxygen levels in the blood.

Anyone working, traveling, or spending time at high altitudes may benefit from a fingertip pulse ox check at regular intervals to determine the need for extra oxygen.



How to Use a Pulse Oximeter?

The pulse ox is a simple, painless device that is straightforward for home use. If your medical professional suggests you use one, then check:

· At what time(s) are the readings taken.
· If you are taking oxygen, when do you need it, and what is the flow rate.
· Establish what oxygen saturation level needs medical intervention.

The procedure consists of clipping or sticking the device to a finger, toe, or earlobe. The device stays in contact for a set time – a few minutes, during exercise or while sleeping. Record the oxygen saturation level, the time of day and any other information, then detach the device and put it away.

Oxygen saturation levels are part of the picture, and you and your physician will build a picture of the trend over time together with respiration rate, pulse and oxygen use.



What are the Benefits of Home Use?

If you're deciding if you'd like to try pulse oxomitry at home, and if it's safe for you to do it by yourself, then you'll be relieved to know that it's perfectly fine. There's no reason to be worried about using this at home without a healthcare professional because anyone can use it.

It's noninvasive, so it's completely safe to use on your own. It's actually a good idea to use it at home, as you might be able to get results that you otherwise would have missed. Many times, your doctor will only monitor you for a short period of time.


But if you doubt your results, it might be because you need to be monitored for a longer period of time. You might need to try keeping it on your finger overnight, or throughout the day while your doing your normal activities to get a better result.

Your doctor might also recommend that you use it at home, so that they can keep a closer eye on you. This is especially important for patients that have a medical condition that their doctors are concerned about.


Some of these medical conditions that will require extra monitoring include sleep apnea, lung or heart disease.

If you're at risk for developing hypoxia, then you'll need to monitor yourself more frequently. Having the convenience of using it at home will not only be easier for you, but it will be reassuring for you to have your test results on hand. Anytime you feel the need to check on your levels, you can do it without having to wait for your results.

Not only does this device monitor your oxygen saturation levels, but it also monitors your pulse as well. This can be especially useful for anyone that suffers from a heart condition that needs to be closely monitored. The fact that it's noninvasive makes it easy for you to put it on, and take it off on your own. You can test yourself at any time of day that you'd like, or if your doctor has given you specific instructions then you can follow their advice on when to test.


You have the option of using it on your finger, toe or earlobe. Though most people do find that it works best on your finger. It might be a bit uncomfortable or awkward to use on your earlobe, but if you feel comfortable with it then you can always try it. There are no risks or complications with using this device. It's perfectly safe, and won't cause you any pain or discomfort. You'll only feel the sensation of your clip on you, but that should never cause you any pain.

The convenience and comfort of home use will bring you some peace of mind, in having the ability to keep track of your blood oxygen levels at all times.



How Accurate is a Pulse Oximeter Reading?

The finger pulse oximetry gives a SpO₂ reading with an error rate of 2%. If you obtain a reading of 92%, then your oxygen saturation can be as low as 90% or as high as 94%.

The most precise reading of blood gas is done by extracting arterial blood from the wrist and measuring the two gases – oxygen and carbon dioxide, in the sample. The process is invasive and painful compared with using a fingertip pulse oximeter or similar device. The pulse ox does not give a carbon dioxide reading. The measure is of arterial blood gas (ABG) rather than oxygen saturation levels, but it's straightforward to calculate the saturation level.


Some factors decrease the accuracy of a pulse oximetry reading.

1. Barriers to the light beam.

Anything that interferes with the passage of light through the finger or toe potentially alters the reading – nail varnish and artificial nails. To avoid this problem, clip the device to the base of the nail or sideways to the finger.

Dark skin with its increased pigmentation may give rise to inaccurate readings for SpO₂ under 80%, but most oximeters are less accurate at low saturation levels. There are personal pulse oximetries that are accurate to lower levels and if necessary, your medical professional will prescribe the specific model.


2. Poor blood circulation.

The pulse oximetry needs a steady blood pulse to get an accurate reading, and cold fingers indicate poor circulation. The best reading comes from a warm, relaxed hand positioned below the heart to give the best blood circulation.

Difficulties in getting an accurate reading also occur if someone is shivering, moving about, or having a fit while taking the reading. If you have an irregular heartbeat, then the fluctuating pulse may give an inaccurate reading.


3. Carbon monoxide in the blood.

Carbon monoxide is dangerous because it binds to the hemoglobin like oxygen and reduces the blood’s capacity to carry oxygen. A pulse oximetry works through reading the change in the color of the blood when the hemoglobin is carrying oxygen molecules. It cannot tell the difference between hemoglobin carrying oxygen and hemoglobin carrying carbon monoxide. A false reading (too high) of the oxygen saturation levels arises if there is carbon monoxide in the bloodstream.

Smokers and those who have inhaled smoke (from a fire) have carbon monoxide in their bloodstream and will receive a false estimate of SpO₂ levels from a pulse ox.


4. Problems with attaching the pulse oximetry.

If you have particularly small or large fingers, then the device may not clip securely. An alternative is to use a different machine where a probe sticks to the finger, toe, or earlobe with tape.


5. A high level of Methemoglobin in the blood.

Methemoglobin is a form of hemoglobin and carries oxygen but is unable to release it to the cells. Most of us have about 1-2% of methemoglobin in our blood. Higher levels can result as a genetic cause or from exposure to certain chemicals. The pulse ox reads hemoglobin and methemoglobin as the same type and will give a higher than accurate reading of oxygen saturation levels.


6. Taking the reading too quickly.

Supplemental oxygen takes time to travel from the lungs to the fingers and toes. It is best to make an average reading over time than a single quick reading.


7. Device not working.

You can manually check your pulse and compare it to the pulse reading given by the pulse oximetry to ensure you have an accurate reading. Periodically take the device along to your doctors or pharmacist to have it checked because a false reading can give either anxiety or a false sense of security.



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