A Breath of Relief: Pulse Oximeters

Patients getting used to supplemental oxygen for lung and heart problems sometimes worry whether they are getting enough. The only way to check oxygen “saturation” of the blood is with a blood test or by a new noninvasive technology called pulse oximetry.

Pulse oximeters are now readily available in pharmacies and are advertised for as little as $20 on internet sites. They quickly and easily measure pulse and use different wavelengths of light to estimate the amount of oxygen in the blood (from 70 –100 percent saturation). Oximeters clip easily onto a finger and shine a red light through the fingertip. Sports enthusiasts, pilots, and patients with chronic lung disease such as COPD or pulmonary fibrosis use pulse oximeters. Patients using oxygen at home or during air travel also can use them to ensure that they are receiving enough oxygen.

A saturation value above 90% is generally considered adequate. Studies show that about one-fourth of pulse oximeters in use are not accurate within 4 percent, so bring your pulse oximeter to your medical provider for a comparison before making any medical decisions regarding the accuracy of your readings, and talk with your provider about the use and limitations of these devices.

For more information, videos of oximetry and reviews on pulse oximeters, check online:





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