India experienced the severity of the second COVID-19 wave, which infected millions of people and killing several thousand. It is common for people to panic during such a crisis, but that makes it even worse for the victims. Therefore, it is advisable to abstain from panicking in such a crisis and instead be prepared to battle the infection with proper tools. A pulse oximeter is one such doctor-recommended tool for every household.
However, just having this device doesn’t help if one doesn’t know how to use a pulse oximeter. But fret not, this article seeks to teach how to use a pulse oximeter, the proper way of reading pulse oximeter, and maintaining a pulse oximeter.
What is an oximeter or pulse oximeter?
Pulse oximeters are small clamp-like device that reads the SpO2 level or the oxygen saturation level in our body. This small device is also capable of measuring heart rate and the SpO2 level at the same time. Doctors, clinics, and hospitals regularly use pulse oximeters. However, with the onset of COVID-19 infection, experts have recommended every household to keep a pulse oximeter to be aware of a sudden drop in the blood-oxygen level. Knowing how to use a pulse oximeter can help anyone avoid health risks.
What is the purpose of oximeter?
The main purpose of a pulse oximeter is to measure the oxygen saturation level in our blood. Therefore, medical practitioners use pulse oximeters in clinics or hospitals to determine whether a patient needs oxygen support or not.
With that said, doctors or health experts recommend that every household should keep and also learn how to use oximeter.
Essentially, an oximeter or pulse oximeter does two jobs –
Measure blood oxygen saturation or SpO2
It has been observed that COVID patients experience a sudden drop in the SpO2 or blood oxygen saturation. This phenomenon is called hypoxemia. It causes breathing issues, and the plummeting oxygen saturation often leads to fatal consequences.
Hypoxemia is generally unnoticeable in patients who don’t have symptoms like breathing trouble or pneumonia. Despite the less severity, the patients may die of low oxygen levels in the body. Knowing how to use an oximeter at home can help the family avoid any dire consequences.
Measure pulse rate
Oximeters can also monitor pulse rate and track any sudden spikes or drops. Being able to spot any drop in the pulse rate can help people avoid disastrous consequences.
Common Cases that Require an Oximeter
You may have noticed that health experts use pulse oximeter on patients. A pulse oximeter has been in medical usage for decades. It is a crucial device to treat patients suffering from respiratory or other diseases. Here is a list of some typical cases that require an oximeter, and patients who know how to use a pulse oximeter can avoid any difficult situation in such cases:
- Coronavirus infected diseases (COVID-19)
- Heart diseases
- High altitude travelling (hiking, mountaineering, etc.)
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- Interstitial lung disease
- Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS)
- Obstruction of an artery in the lung
- Pulmonary fibrosis/ scarring or damage to the lungs
- Excess fluid in the lungs
- Presence of air or gas in the chest leading to lung collapse
- Sleep apnea
Working of an Oximeter
To know how oximeters work is as essential as knowing how to use a pulse oximeter.
Pulse oximeters are often clipped to the patient’s finger, toe, or earlobe to measure the blood-oxygen saturation or SpO2. Some of the oximeters can also measure hearth-beat, blood flow, etc.
After switching on, you may notice that a pulse oximeter radiates a red beam. The device passes this red beam through the blood vessels of the patient’s finger, earlobe or toe. The oximeter monitors the changes in light absorption in blood cells and indicates the changes through a small screen.
Types of pulse oximeters
There are three types of pulse oximeters –
- Fingertip pulse oximeter
- Handheld pulse oximeter
- Fetal pulse oximeter
Among all these, the most popular type of oximeter is the fingertip pulse oximeter. As the names suggest, fingertip oximeters are connected to the patient’s fingertip to measure the blood oxygen saturation and heart rate. These are ideal for home use.
Handheld oximeters are primarily used in clinics and hospitals, and fetal pulse oximeters are used to monitor blood oxygen saturation in feti.
How to use a pulse oximeter effectively?
Before you rely on the oximeter’s readings, you must know how to use a pulse oximeter properly, and the basic step is to understand how to put on an oximeter. While putting the clip of the oximeter on the patient’s finger or toe, you should notice if –
- The device is not too tight on the finger – If the oximeter fits tightly on the patient’s finger or toe or earlobe, it may hinder the natural blood flow, conducive to misleading information. It defeats the purpose of oximeter.
- The device is too loose on the finger – If the oximeter is too loose on the patient’s finger or toe or earlobe, it may fall off with the slightest of movements.
- Ensure that the oximeter is snugly fit on the patient’s finger, toe or earlobe to not hinder the blood flow while also taking care that it does not fall off.
The points above mentioned are the basic guide on how to use a pulse oximeter effectively.
Correctly Reading Pulse Oximeter Readings
After discussing how to use a pulse oximeter, it is time to learn how to interpret the oximeter data. A pulse oximeter comes equipped with a small LCD screen that shows the SpO2 readings and other information. Generally, a pulse oximeter displays information in numbers, so it is pretty straightforward. However, interpretation of the numbers is easy, but understanding when to take action is crucial. Once you learn how to use a pulse oximeter and interpret the oximeter reading, we will discuss the alarming factors.
Below is a reference image showing a pulse oximeter’s screen. Here you can see the SpO2 or blood oxygen saturation in percentage (98%). Right under the SpO2 percentage, there is the information on heart rate, and the vertical broken-line is the blood flow indicator. It shows whether the blood flow to the oximeter-connected spot is free or not.