Contact ApriaHome at (800) 780-1508

Save 15% on your next order


How To Read A Pulse Oximeter: Oxygen Levels, Usage & More

How To Read A Pulse Oximeter: Oxygen Levels, Usage & More

Apria Editorial |

If you've ever had a physical exam or undergone a medical procedure, you've probably had your blood oxygen saturation checked by a pulse oximeter. The spread of COVID-19, which may induce large reductions in blood oxygen saturation, has increased the availability and appeal of at-home pulse oximeters.

Pulse oximetry is a simple, non-invasive way of detecting oxygen saturation in a person's blood. Oxygen saturation is an important indicator of how well the lungs are operating. When we inhale air, our lungs deliver oxygen to our capillaries, which are microscopic blood vessels. In turn, these capillaries provide oxygen-rich blood to the heart, which then distributes it throughout the body through arteries. Our organs need a steady flow of oxygen to function effectively. When the lungs' ability to carry oxygen into the blood is compromised, blood oxygen saturation decreases, possibly placing our organs at risk. A pulse oximeter can instantly detect this oxygen saturation reduction, alerting a patient to seek medical assistance immediately.

Pulse oximetry has now become a word that is widely used in relation to COVID-19, but what is it exactly? Learn how to use and read a pulse oximeter at home with these instructions from ApriaHome.

What Is A Pulse Oximeter?

A pulse oximeter is a compact, lightweight apparatus that measures the quantity of oxygen being carried throughout the body. This non-invasive technology connects painlessly to your toe, fingertip, or earlobe. It sends two wavelengths of light through to monitor your pulse rate and the amount of oxygen in your bloodstream. Once the oximeter has completed its evaluation, the screen will display the percentage of oxygen in your blood and your current pulse rate.

What Does A Pulse Oximeter Measure?

Pulse oximetry measures and monitors a patient's health concerning illnesses that impact blood oxygen levels, including:

  • Heart attack or heart failure
  • Congenital heart disease
  • Pneumonia
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Asthma
  • Lung cancer
  • Anemia

The pulse oximeter measures the body's oxygen saturation level without the need for needles or blood samples. The detected quantity shown on the screen represents the oxygen saturation of your red blood cells. This number informs physicians and nurses about the course of treatment for each patient.

The oxygen level may also aid in determining if you need supplementary oxygen. Ideal saturation levels are 95% and above. Your doctor will explain the implications in relation to your condition.

When Is A Pulse Oximeter Used?

Doctors utilize pulse oximetry for a variety of purposes, including:

  • To evaluate the efficacy of a new lung medication
  • To determine if a patient needs breathing assistance or supplementary oxygen treatment
  • To assess how effective treatment with a ventilator has been
  • To monitor oxygen levels during or after sedation-induced surgical operations
  • To determine someone's tolerance for increasing physical activity
  • To determine if someone temporarily stops breathing while sleeping while conducting a sleep study to diagnose sleep apnea

How To Use A Pulse Oximeter At Home:

There is a chance that the device won't work if your hands are too cold or dirty or if you are wearing nail polish or false acrylic nails. To ensure the most accurate results from your test, follow these steps:

  • Wash your hands thoroughly in warm water.
  • Remove any false nails and nail polish from the finger you will use to test.
  • Ensure that you are in a comfortable posture away from bright lighting; this can affect your results.

How to use the pulse oximeter:

  • Switch on the pulse oximeter and ensure it has batteries.
  • When you're ready to begin measuring, place the oximeter on your finger (nail pointed upwards).
  • Hold the instrument firmly on your finger, lay your hand gently on a flat surface, and remain still until the readings appear.

How Often Should Blood Oxygen Levels (SpO2) Be Measured?

Your doctor may advise you to measure blood oxygen levels (SpO2) at regular intervals, especially when your symptoms seem to be getting worse (such as when you exercise). It is usually necessary to track these readings twice a day for two weeks and keep a record of your results to provide to your doctor during your next appointment.

Understanding Pulse Oximeter Readings

Wondering what the two readings on a pulse oximeter are? Pulse oximeter readings indicate SpO2 and pulse rate (PR). Your doctor will be able to tell you what figures are reasonable for your age, weight, and lifestyle.

  • If your oxygen level falls between 90 and 94% and you are unwell or experiencing shortness of breath or a fever, you should contact a healthcare professional.
  • If your levels are between 90 and 94% and you feel fine, unclip your device, take several deep breaths, move around and stay hydrated. Retake your reading in one hour. If your reading still falls between 90 and 94 %, you should contact a healthcare professional.
  • If your oxygen saturation levels fall below 90 - 92%, please contact a health care professional immediately.

How Accurate Are Prescription Pulse Oximeter Readings?

A prescription, FDA-approved pulse oximeter is generally accurate within 4% of the actual reading. This means that if your oxygen level reads 93%, it might be as low as 89% or as high as 97%. Bear in mind that these are estimates, and you'll obtain a better insight into the accuracy of your readings over time.

Pulse oximeters are the most reliable, with values over 90%. They become less accurate between 80% and 90% and significantly less accurate below 80%.

Frequently Asked Questions Associated With Pulse Oximetry

  • Which finger to use for the pulse oximeter reading?

    Statistically, the pulse oximeter's optimum results are obtained from the right middle finger and the right thumb. Be sure to remove rings, acrylic nails as well as nail polish before taking a reading.

    • What is a normal pulse oximeter reading?

      For most healthy individuals, an oxygen saturation level of 95% is considered a good blood oxygen level. A level of 92% or below may indicate hypoxemia or a dangerously low quantity of oxygen in the blood. If your oxygen saturation levels fall below 90%, seek immediate medical attention.

      • What does PI mean on a pulse oximeter?

      The quantitative relation of pulsatile (beating) blood flow to static blood flow in the peripheral tissue, such as a toe, ear lobe, or fingertip, is known as the perfusion index (PI). The PI displays the strength of a patient's pulse rate in the area of the outer tissue being measured. The PI can range anywhere from 0.02% for very weak pulses up to 20% for stronger pulses. The PI changes according to the patient, vital signs, and monitoring site.

      Pulse oximeters are often used to measure the PI. PI is also an excellent predictor of the accuracy of a pulse oximeter measurement. Most general-purpose pulse oximeters provide incorrect or unavailable readings when PI is at or below 0.4%. A PI increases the sensitivity of the oximeter sensor.

      • Can a pulse oximeter detect angina?

      Angina is a type of acute chest discomfort caused by a decrease in blood flow to the heart, resulting in oxygen deprivation in the heart. In addition to chest discomfort, oxygen deficiency may induce perspiration, nausea, dizziness, exhaustion, and difficulty breathing. While pulse oximetry can be used to determine angina, a thorough physical examination is advised.

      • Can a pulse oximeter detect a heart attack?

      A heart attack is the most frequent complication associated with angina. If you have sudden chest discomfort, seek emergency medical assistance immediately.

      Baseline oxygen saturation by pulse oximetry is valuable in establishing the diagnosis and degree of heart failure, but it is not the sole determining factor. When the baseline oxygen saturation is less than 93%, this can be an indication of heart failure or an increased risk of a heart attack. A pulse oximeter reading alone will not suffice. The determination should ideally be made with a thorough and multi-layered physical examination.

      Take care of your health and well-being with ApriaHome

      Apria Home is an online medical supply platform focused on providing quality medical equipment across the country ‒ efficiently and conveniently. If you're looking for finger pulse oximeters but are overwhelmed by the range of options available, we recommend the following in terms of affordability, convenience, accuracy, and cutting-edge technology.

      ApriaHome recommendation for best pulse oximeters:

      Check oxygen saturation, pulse rate, and PI with ease and accuracy with the Bluetooth Fingertip Pulse Oximeter, no matter where you are. The pulse oximeter's one-button operation makes it simple, easy, and convenient to determine your SpO2 and heart rate. The pulse oximeter then wirelessly transmits that information to your smartphone for tracking.

        Use this portable, battery-powered fingertip pulse oximeter to track your vitals and maintain your health at your convenience. An easy-to-read dual-color display indicates your pulse rate and oxygen saturation levels. The various benefits of this pulse oximeter include its simple one-button operation, long battery life (up to 30 hours), and access to SpO2, PR, pulse bar, waveform, and more.

        The ADC Advantage 2200 fingertip pulse oximeter is an ultra-portable device that measures oxygen saturation and pulse rate. It may be used in various settings, including at home, in sports, or aviation. The 2200 is easy to use without prior training and requires no regular maintenance other than battery replacement.

        The pulse oximeter's finger sensor probe, electronics, and screen are all housed in a single, small housing, making the device both lightweight and easy to carry. In addition, the device's revolutionary one-color, dual LED display also includes a pulse strength indication, improving the accuracy of readings and ease of use.

        [CTA] Looking for something specific? Our friendly experts are on call daily between 8:00 am - 10:00 pm EST. So get in touch today at 888-667-5158, and let us help you get the most out of every day.


        LEGAL DISCLAIMER: Material in this newsletter is only: (1) provided for general health education and informational purposes, and to provide references to other resources; it may not apply to you as an individual. While Apria believes that the information provided through this communication is accurate and reliable, Apria cannot and does not make any such guarantee. It is not intended to be a replacement for professional medical advice, evaluation, diagnosis, services or treatment (collectively, "medical treatment"). Please see your healthcare provider for medical treatment related to you and your specific health condition(s). Never disregard medical advice or delay seeking medical care because of something you have read on or accessed through this website. Reading this newsletter should not be construed to mean that you have a healthcare provider/patient relationship with Apria.