How to Use Pulse Oximeter at Home

How To Use a Pulse Oximeter at Home During COVID-19

Follow these steps to know how to use a Pulse Oximeter and correctly measure the readings of Pulse Oximeter at home during COVID-19. Also keep these points in mind before taking the readings.

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 a 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.


Why Should You Use Pulse 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 a clinic or hospital 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 a pulse oximeter. The reason for it is, COVID-19 infected patients suffer from breathing issues, and the oxygen level in their blood drops as well. The plummeting oxygen saturation often leads to fatal consequences, and this phenomenon is called hypoxemia.

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 level in the body. Knowing how to use a pulse oximeter at home can help the family avoid any dire consequence owing to hypoxemia.


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)
  • Asthma
  • Heart diseases
  • High altitude travelling (hiking, mountaineering, etc.)
  • Anemia
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Interstitial lung disease
  • Emphysema
  • Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS)
  • Pneumonia
  • 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 a Pulse 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.


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 –

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

A pulse oximeter reading

Image1: a pulse oximeter reading (source)


Please remember, your oximeter may or may not have all the information discussed here, but it should show the oxygen saturation level in your body. If you need a comprehensive and accurate pulse oximeter, you can compare all products and buy the best pulse oximeter from Amazon Business.


Factors affecting Pulse Oximeter Readings


While monitoring the blood oxygen saturation, you should keep a few things in mind to get accurate readings on the pulse oximeter. In certain conditions, the oximeter may falter to produce an accurate reading. Even people who know how to use a pulse oximeter may find it confusing.

So, what factors can affect pulse oximetry reading?

  • Nail polish – If a patient has his or her nails varnished, the oximeter may fail to read the oxygen saturation in the blood. Since the pulse oximeter uses a red beam, certain coloured nail varnishes can absorb the light, obstructing it from passing through the blood vessels. Therefore, ensure that patients are not wearing any nail polish; remove the polish using alcohol rub before using a pulse oximeter on the fingers. Also, one can consider clipping the oximeter on toes or earlobes in case the nail-paint removal is difficult.
  • Pigmentation like Mehendi/ Henna – Similar to the nail polish, henna, mehendi or other pigmentation on the fingers may obstruct the pulse oximeter working. In such cases, try clipping the pulse oximeter on the patient’s toe or earlobe.
  • Patient movement/ shivering – Certain diseases cause patients to shiver, in that case, blood circulation to the oximeter connected spot may become irregular, leading to an inaccurate reading. Also, if the patient moves a lot while being examined, the oximeter may not work correctly. Make sure the patient is still when using the pulse oximeter.


Another crucial part of learning how to use a pulse oximeter is to understand the data.

a pulse oximeter shows steady reading

Image2: a pulse oximeter shows steady reading (source)


Observe the curved line in the reference image above. This is a reading on a steady patient. If you compare the above image with the below one, you will notice the difference in the movement of the curved line (compare image2 and image3). The second image shows how the reading differs when the patient is not steady or if the oximeter is moved.


a pulse oximeter reads irregular movement

Image3: a pulse oximeter reads irregular movement (source)


Witnessing such a drop in the SpO2 level and the incohesive readings can create panic and confusion, even to those who know how to use a pulse oximeter. That person may use the oximeter on him or herself to see if it is working properly or not. Please remember to contact a doctor if the patient’s SpO2 plummets below 94%.

  • Patients who have inhaled carbon monoxide – If the patient inhales carbon monoxide, the pulse oximeter can show exaggerated SpO2 reading. You may witness this situation while treating firefighters or fire victims.


How to Safely take care of the Oximeter?


Knowing how to use oximeter is not enough. Maintaining a pulse oximeter is equally important. If you ensure a few steps, a pulse oximeter can last for a long time and also maintain data accuracy. These steps are – 


  • Always clean the oximeter probe when it gets dirty. You can use an alcohol rub and use a soft cloth or swabs to rub the dirt off gently
  • Always keep the pulse oximeter charged
  • Don’t drop the pulse oximeter


In case you are using an oximeter attached to cables,


  • Don’t pull by the cable, instead grab the plug/ connector firmly while connecting or disconnecting the probe
  • When not using, always keep the cable and wire coiled up
  • Do not tightly coil the cable as it may damage the metal inside



To Conclude


There is no need to further emphasize the need for having a pulse oximeter at home and how vital it is to know how to use a pulse oximeter. The doctors are recommending it to the COVID-19 infected patients. The pulse oximeter helps the patients determine whether their condition is deteriorating or whether they need hospitalization. 

As for hospitals and other health institutions, purchasing pulse oximeters becomes essential. Amazon Business brings you a host of options in pulse oximeters to compare and choose from. You can also purchase COVID-19 supplies or other clinic essentials from Amazon Business.


Why Buy from Amazon Business?


Amazon business is the largest e-commerce company in India, and it offers a great variety of product at competitive pricing for all its customers. Compared to retail purchasing, you may enjoy exciting discounts for bulk buying from Amazon business. Moreover, Amazon business has a wide network of delivery service in the metro cities across India, making it easy for businesses to receive their orders in time. Open a free Amazon Business Account for all your bulk procurement needs.


How to use a pulse oximeter- FAQs


1. Do we really need a pulse oximeter?

Doctors recommend having a pulse oximeter at home to diagnose any early symptoms of hypoxemia. Often, patients lose valuable time in determining the problem, and having an oximeter at home can help the patients be aware of any danger related to blood oxygen saturation.


2. Why is pulse oximeter blood oxygen saturation percentage sometimes inaccurate?

A pulse oximeter blood oxygen saturation percentage may sometimes give inaccurate result for many reasons –

  •  If the device fits too tightly
  • If the device fits too loosely
  • If the patient moves too much
  • If the patient shivers
  • If the patient has pigmented skin or varnished nails
  • If the patient has inhaled carbon monoxide (CO)


3. What are the normal value range for a pulse oximeter?

Normal SpO2 range is 95% - 99%.


4. Can oxygen levels be correctly measured at home?

Yes. After learning how to use a pulse oximeter, one can correctly measure oxygen saturation level at home.


5. How does an oximeter measure oxygen levels or oxygen saturation (SpO2)?

A pulse oximeter radiates a red beam that passes through the blood vessels of the patient’s finger, earlobe or toe. The oximeter monitors the changes in the absorption of light in oxygenated or deoxygenated blood cells and indicates the changes through a small screen.


6. How many times do I need to check my oxygen levels in a day?

Doctors in India recommend that a COVID-19 infected patient should record their SpO2 thrice a day. In general, you may also observe this routine.


7. Are there any downsides to using an at-home pulse oximeter?

No, there are no downsides to using an at-home pulse oximeter.

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