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Pulse Oximeters: What Do They Do and Should You Buy One?

Sep 18, 2017 4:00:00 AM / by Duke Reeves

When you live with COPD or another chronic respiratory disorder, managing your symptoms and getting enough oxygen is an everyday struggle. You might worry about getting enough supplemental oxygen, or fear that your blood oxygen levels drop too low at times.

But what if there was an easy way to make sure your body is getting enough oxygen any day, any time, from the comfort of your own home? Luckily, all you need is a small, hand-held device called a pulse oximeter, and you can do just that.

A pulse oximeter is a quick, simple, and completely non-invasive home method for testing your blood's oxygen saturation. It's a great way to monitor your symptoms, catch abnormalities, and prevent hypoxia, which happens when your blood oxygen levels fall too low.



Pulse oximeters are not just convenient, but also extraordinarily easy to use. All you have to do is clip the tiny, clam-shell-like probe to the tip of your finger, and you can get an accurate reading of your blood oxygen saturation in seconds.


The best part is, you can check your oxygen saturation levels anytime, anywhere, and as often as you'd like!


In this article we'll show you how a finger tip pulse oximeter can be an invaluable tool for many people with chronic lung or heart conditions. Continue reading to learn more about pulse oximetry, how it works, and how you can benefit from having a pulse oximeter in your home.

 

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Do You Need a Pulse Oximeter?

 

Pulse oximetry is an effective technique for determining blood oxygen levels.


Pulse oximeters can be useful for people suffering from a variety of respiratory and cardiovascular disorders. It can help monitor symptoms of lung disease, asthma, and even some heart-related conditions.


Fingertip pulse oximeters help people with chronic diseases monitor their blood oxygen levels, for example, after a heart attack or in severe cases of COPD. It can help you watch out for hypoxia and alert you when your oxygen saturation is abnormally low so you can seek medical attention immediately.


A pulse oximeter can also be a useful for people who receive supplemental oxygen therapy. It lets you monitor your oxygen saturation levels throughout the day so you know when to use your oxygen and can help you and your doctor ensure that the therapy is adequate and effective.


You might benefit from a pulse oximeter if:

 

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Why Your Oxygen Saturation is Important

 

Oxygen is one of the most essential resources for humans.


When you breathe, you absorb oxygen gas from the air into your lung tissue, where the oxygen molecules can then enter your bloodstream. From there, your heart pumps the oxygen-rich blood throughout your body to the organs and tissues that need it.


This is the main purpose of your respiratory system: It takes oxygen out of the air and then carries it around the body, where it absorbed and used as fuel to keep your muscles and all the other cells in your body working.


The amount of oxygen in your blood at any given time is known as your blood's oxygen saturation. Oxygen saturation is an important metric to keep track of, because it can tell you a lot about the severity of lung diseases like COPD and what kind of medical treatments or supplemental oxygen therapies patients might need.


The most important thing that your blood oxygen saturation can tell you is whether or not your lungs are functioning well enough to provide your body with enough oxygen. If your blood oxygen saturation is too low, you are in danger of experiencing hypoxia. If it is normal, then you know that you are getting enough oxygen.


How Does a Fingertip Pulse Oximeter Work?

 

Pulse oximeters are simple to use.


To use a pulse oximeter, all you have to do is clip the device to your finger and press the button. Within a few moments, the device will display your oxygen saturation percentage on its front-facing screen.


You might be wondering, how can a hand-held device accurately read your blood oxygen levels by simply clamping to your finger and without drawing blood? The answer is with a beam of light and a sophisticated light saturation sensor.


Pulse oximeters work by shining a light through your skin which then reflects off the blood flowing through your vessels just underneath. Then the light reflects back off of your blood, back up through your skin, and into the sensitive light saturation sensor.


Based on the saturation of the light that returns, the sensor can tell how much oxygen was in the blood that it reflected off of. That's because hemoglobin, which acts like a transport vehicle for oxygen in your blood, absorbs a lot of light when it's carrying oxygen.


The more light that gets absorbed, the higher your blood oxygen saturation is.


A pulse oximeter reports the results of its readings as a percentage. This number represents what percentage of the hemoglobin molecules in your blood are saturated with oxygen, known as your blood oxygen saturation level.

 

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How Do You Interpret the Results?

It's important to maintain a healthy blood oxygen level.


Usually an oxygen saturation reading that's anywhere above 95% is considered normal and healthy. However, if you suffer from COPD or another breathing condition, your oxygen saturation might be lower.


You will need to talk to your doctor about what kinds of readings you should expect given your unique disease and physical condition. However, if you get a blood oxygen saturation reading below 90%, you should always seek immediate medical attention unless otherwise directed by your doctor.


While a pulse oximeter can give you a good idea of how well your lungs are functioning, it should never be used as a replacement for regular doctor visits and spirometry tests. You will need to work with your doctor and use your pulse oximeter readings in combination with other lung function tests to accurately monitor and manage your disease.


How You Can Benefit from Using a Home Pulse Oximeter

Pulse oximetry can be done within the comfort of your own home.


The great thing about pulse oximeters is that you can get immediate, accurate oxygen saturation readings whenever you need them. You can monitor your blood oxygen levels and watch for abnormal readings without going through any hassle or having to wait until your next visit to the doctor.

If you have a chronic respiratory disease like COPD, you are in regular danger of your blood oxygen levels falling too low. It's important to be aware when this happens because low oxygen saturation can put tremendous strain on your body.

If it goes untreated for long enough, low blood oxygen levels can cause life-threatening complications including pulmonary hypertension, heart disease, and respiratory failure.

That's when having a home pulse oximeter can be a lifesaver. Using a pulse oximeter to test your blood oxygen saturation levels on a regular basis allows you to keep a closer eye on your respiratory health and take a more active role in your own treatment.

Pulse oximetry is non invasive and can be done on your own time.



The best thing about owning a fingertip pulse oximeter is the peace of mind you get from knowing that you can easily and instantly test your blood oxygen saturation and get an early warning if it falls too low. This gives you the opportunity to use medication and other therapies to bring your oxygen saturation back up to healthy levels, or seek medical attention if it falls too low.


A pulse oximeter can also be a valuable tool to assess your condition if you experience worsened symptoms or exacerbations. It can alert you to when your oxygen saturation is low enough to warrant medical attention, and can be extremely helpful in an emergency situation.


Also, if you use supplemental oxygen to treat COPD or another respiratory disorder, a pulse oximeter is a wonderful tool to have on hand. Checking your oxygen saturation levels throughout the day can help you recognize times when you need to use your supplemental oxygen and increase the accuracy of your oxygen therapy. It can also help you assess whether or not your oxygen flow rate is accurate and if your oxygen therapy is working as effectively as it should.


Overall, having a home pulse oximeter lets you take control of your own disease treatment in a way you never could before.


Here is a list of benefits that a pulse oximeter has to offer:

  • The ability to conveniently test your oxygen saturation levels from the comfort of your own home
  • The ability to monitor a variety of chronic illnesses, including asthma, COPD, and heart disease
  • Testing that is simple, non-invasive, and pain-free
  • The ability to more accurately and efficiently use supplemental oxygen to manage your disease
  • The ability to test your oxygen saturation as often as you like, any time of the day
  • The ability to identify certain activities and times during which your oxygen saturation levels are lower (e.g. while sleeping)
  • The ability to monitor your oxygen levels during exercise and use supplemental oxygen accordingly
  • Early warning for when your oxygen levels fall dangerously low and you need to seek medical attention


New Innovations in Pulse Oximetry Technology


Simple hand-held pulse oximeters have been used to measure oxygen saturation in homes, hospitals, and doctor's offices for many years. Up until recently, the only type available was the typical simple pulse oximeter that does nothing more than clamp onto your finger and spit out a reading on its screen.


Now, there is a new type of pulse oximeter called a smart pulse oximeter that can do much more than its predecessors. Smart pulse oximeters send your readings to a smartphone app that you can access on your iPhone or Android device to accurately track your oxygen saturation levels every day.


Features Included in Smart Pulse Oximeters

Your smartphone can be used to view oximetry test results.


What makes a smart pulse oximeter so useful is that it sends all of the data it collects to an app that helps you better monitor how your readings change over time. And because smart pulse oximeters can measure more than just oxygen saturation, they can help you track other important health data as well.


Smart pulse oximeters can read and display:

  • Your blood oxygen saturation levels
  • Your pulse rate
  • Your perfusion index (a measure of how strong or weak your pulse is)


Having a single app to store and review all of this data can help both you and your doctor better keep track of and utilize your oxygen saturation readings. It is much more convenient and versatile than trying to track all that data by hand, and it's more accurate, too.


Some smart pulse oximeters can even adjust their readings to account for factors like dark skin tone and low perfusion. This allows them to provide more accurate, individualized data for a wide range of different patients and conditions.


Most smart pulse oximeters use a USB cable to export the data from your pulse oximeter device to the app on your smartphone. However, you can now get wireless smart pulse oximeters that use Bluetooth technology to instantly sync the data with your phone.


How to Choose the Right Pulse Oximeter for You


There are a variety of different pulse oximeters, including smart pulse oximeters, out there on the market to choose from. While they used to be quite pricey, there are now many more affordable, inexpensive pulse oximeters you can buy.


However, if you use supplemental oxygen or suffer from severe COPD, it might be worth it to invest in a more sophisticated device. Its' important to make sure your pulse oximeter is durable, accurate, and FDA-approved if you rely on it to monitor your health.


Although a bit more pricey, smart pulse oximeters are a perfect solution if you want to skip the hassle of writing down all your data after every reading you take. Smart pulse oximeters keep a record of every pulse reading all in one place for you, that way it's as easy as possible for you and your doctor to make sense of the results.


How to Get The Most Accurate Readings Possible

 

Speak with your doctor to get the best readings from your device.


Even the best home pulse oximeters have limits and may not be accurate 100 percent of the time. However, if you use your pulse oximeter correctly and understand which factors can throw its measurements off, you can depend on your pulse oximeter to give you useful readings the vast majority of the time.


Know these following factors that can cause your pulse oximeter to give an inaccurate reading:

  • Taking the reading in cold weather or having very cold hands
  • Certain colors of nail polish (blue, black, or green nail polish can throw off a pulse oximeter's light spectrum sensor)
  • Poor circulations in your fingertips (you can usually remedy this by rubbing your hands together for a couple of minutes to get your blood flowing)
  • Medical dyes injected into your bloodstream
  • Dark skin pigmentation (Talk to your doctor to make sure that your pulse oximeter is correctly calibrated for your skin type so you can be sure your readings are accurate.)


You should also be aware that certain serious medical conditions can also affect a pulse oximeter's sensors and give you an inaccurate reading. These conditions include cardiac arrest, respiratory arrest, arrhythmia, shock, edema, carbon monoxide poisoning, and arteriovenous fistulas.


As long as you keep these caveats in mind, you should always be able to get accurate, reliable readings from your pulse oximeter. However, it's still important to see your doctor and get regular lung function tests to get a more complete and accurate assessment of your condition.


Get Your Own Home Pulse Oximeter Today

Home pulse oximeters provide convenience for those with COPD.


If you have a chronic lung disease like COPD, getting your own home pulse oximeter can be an effective way to take back some control in your life and get some extra peace of mind. It can help you monitor your disease, warn you when your oxygen levels drop too low, and even help you use supplemental oxygen more effectively.


If you think that a home pulse oximeter could help you, talk to your doctor to learn how you can benefit from monitoring your blood oxygen saturation at home. Your doctor can also show you how to use your pulse oximeter correctly and accurately interpret your results.


Home pulse oximeters have become an invaluable tool for people with COPD and other chronic conditions to track their respiratory health, and it's one of the best ways get the most out of supplemental oxygen therapy.


Pulse oximeters are convenient, effective, inexpensive, and can significantly reduce the worry and burden of living with a variety of chronic conditions. So don't keep yourself in the dark any longer, and look into getting your own home pulse oximeter today!

Topics: COPD, Medication and Treatment, Tips and Hacks

Duke Reeves

Written by Duke Reeves

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