People suffering from conditions such as asthma, COPD, and Congestive heart failure among other similar maladies.

In that case, need oxygen levels in their blood is measured in order to regulate a treatment.

A pulse oximeter is a painless and non-invasive device that allows monitoring the amount of oxygen carried in the body.

This device is small enough to be used at home as well.

It allows monitoring of the smallest changes in oxygen saturation levels.

It is efficient in detecting the supply to the furthest extremities. More importantly, from the heart such as legs and arms.

What is a Pulse Oximeter?

A pulse oximeter is a small clip like device that can be attached to any part of the body. It is generally used in critical care settings like emergency rooms and Intensive Care Units.

Doctors like pulmonologists might use it in their offices as well. You can also find them in ambulances, operating rooms and recovery and critical care.

However, smaller units designed specifically for home care are available in the market to help patients.

Especially, with conditions like asthma and COPD to monitor their oxygen levels. 


There are a lot of benefits to this simplistic design that allows monitoring of oxygen levels in the hemoglobin being carried by the blood.

The prime benefit of this device is that it is simplistic and not very expensive. The method of using it is easy and uncomplicated.

Also, it provides immediate results that allow for changes in treatment to take place in real time.

Other benefits of this device are focused on the user experience. 

Non-invasive and Painless

It is non-invasive and painless that allows it to be used multiple times without any discomfort.

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It is also extremely compact that allows it to be stored in minimal spaces. However, the most glaring benefit is in the detection of hypoxemia.

Traditionally, this condition is diagnosed by the occurrence of cyanosis. Use of oximeters proves to be an easier and more detailed method to detect this condition.

How It Works

This device does not directly measure the oxygen saturation levels in your body because it is non-invasive.

However, it uses data and complex equations to provide an accurate reading. That said, the readings can be off by a maximum of 2%.

One side of the clip-on probe shines light through a relatively transparent part of the body. The other side of the probe has a detector that measures the amount of light received.

The data is then processed through the machine to come to an accurate reading.

What Does it Do?

The basic purpose of a pulse oximeter is to monitor and check oxygen pumped by your heart throughout the body.

However, the applications of the results can vary from patient to patient.

It is important to understand what oxygen saturation is before discerning the benefits of this device.

Oxygen Saturation

Our blood contains tiny hemoglobin cells that are responsible for moving oxygen throughout the body.

Hemoglobin without oxygen is called de-oxygenated hemoglobin.

Oxygen saturation refers to the percentage of oxygenated hemoglobin present in the blood.

An oxygen saturation level of 95% is considered normal and healthy. 89% oxygenated hemoglobin is required in the body to keep the tissues healthy.

Levels below 92% generally indicate hypoxemia or deficiency of oxygen in tissues. 


The usual functions that this device serves are:

Medication Assessment

  • It allows for the assessment and analysis of new lung medications.
  • In that ways, it improves oxygen supply to the body.
  • Breathing Issues

  • When used in critical care, ambulances or emergency rooms it allows the health workers. Accordingly, monitor if a patient is in need of assisted breathing.
  • Ventilator

  • It helps to assess whether a ventilator is performing as expected.
  • Sedation

  • Monitoring oxygen levels while under sedation during or post-operative procedures is critical.
  • This device allows for real-time monitoring of oxygen saturation.
  • Oxygen Therapy

  • Oxygen monitoring is performed to establish the effectiveness of supplemental oxygen therapy.
  • Fitness

  • Increased physical activity requires an increase in oxygenated blood supply to the various parts of the body.
  • Monitoring with a pulse oximeter helps in ensuring the ability to tolerate increased physical activity.
  • Sleep Study

  • During a sleep study for conditions such as sleep apnea. In that case, it helps in evaluating whether a patient stops breathing.
  • Conditions used in:

    There are a number of conditions that require monitoring from this device.

    It has been proven beneficial to people with cardiovascular conditions, individuals with infections and extremely young infants.

    The usual conditions in which this device is used are:


    This device helps in monitoring breathing and oxygen supply to ensure that a patient is stable.

    Lung Cancer

    Dropping levels of oxygen saturation in the blood can be indicative of lung failure.

    Heart Attack

    To ascertain the need for assisted breathing and gauge the extent of de-oxygenated blood.

    Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Diseases (COPD).

    Regular monitoring is helpful in establishing a stable condition as this condition is a form of obstructive lung disease. 


    Heart failure is common in this condition. Continuous monitoring helps to ascertain whether vital organs are healthy or not.


    It regulates the hemoglobin composition and oxygen saturation. There are many other conditions in which this device comes in useful.

    How to Use it?

    The pulse oximeter has a clamp-like device that is attached to a thin skin area of the body such as toes, fingertips, and earlobes.

    In infants, it would be clipped on to the foot. It uses small beams of light to measure the oxygen in the blood. 

    Ways to Use it

    Someone can use pulse oximetry in both medical facilities and at home. In fact, most times doctors recommend patients to get one for home use in order to maintain regular monitoring. 

    Here are the various approaches to using it. 


    They clip the probe or clip like an extension on the fingertips.

    It is important to ensure that the probe is neither too loose nor too tight.

    A loose probe might fall off during the analysis while a tight probe will constrict the circulation.

    There should be a minimal pressure on the fingertip and absolutely no pain.

    The device is kept clipped to the fingertip until saturation and pulse readings are acquired. While using fingers, it is important to keep the hand at heart level. 


    Oxygen saturation levels can be obtained by clipping the probe to the earlobe.

    However, it shall need to be attached to an ear hook or else it might fall off.

    The device needs to remain attached until they acquire the readings.

    Foot and Palms

    Generally, with infants, neonates or small children who do not have big enough fingers or ears, the device is clipped to their palms or foot.

    If using on a child, make sure that the child is in an inclined position.


    They use this approach in extremely rare cases when digits or earlobes are not accessible. The reflectance probe is attached right above the eyebrows.

    It is important to keep it away from any major vessels.

    The patient should be in an inclined position, and they should use a headband to ensure that the probe does not fall off.

    Limitations and Care

    There are many circumstances in which a pulse oximeter might provide inaccurate results. It is important that care is taken especially while monitoring oxygen saturation levels at home.

    Nail Polish

    As the device uses light to detect oxygen saturation levels. Moreover, it is important that nails be free of polish or any pigment if used on the fingertips.

    Chemicals or pigmentation can interfere with data calculation providing inaccurate readings.

    In case, there is a nail varnish present. On that condition it’s a good idea is to turn the probe sideways avoiding the nails altogether. 

    Bright Light

    Because the red light can accelerate healing, wounds to the skin will heal more quickly thanks to the increased blood flow to the area.


    The probe needs to be kept in position until someone obtains the readings.

    Any kind of movement even shaking can cause the probe to dislodge.

    You will have to start again after resetting the device.

    Other limitations

    There are many other conditions that might cause an inaccurate result.

    Such as lipids in blood plasma, carbon monoxide poisoning, poor circulation, bilirubin levels, and cold hands or ears.


    Pulse oximeter devices are a quick and non-invasive way to determine oxygen saturation levels in the blood.

    They are extremely beneficial when used properly. If you are using a home device. Subsequently, it is important that you maintain a log of all your readings to help your physician determine your condition.

    There are no side effects to using this device. However, some patients might suffer from mild skin rashes or irritation because of the adhesive used in probes.

    Emergency care is advised if the results fall below normal levels of oxygen saturation.


    Featured Image: CC0 Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

    Last update on 2022-08-30 at 12:54 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API