If you've been to the doctor recently, you can probably still recall the tiny device that the nurse clipped loosely onto the tip of your finger. You most likely didn't ask about it, but this cute, little clip—called a pulse oximeter—was reading your oxygen saturation levels, a metric used to determine how much oxygen is available in your blood. As a vital element that our organs need in order to keep working, low levels could indicate a serious issue—even a level below 92% can suggest hypoxia (deprivation of adequate oxygen).
How does a pulse oximeter work?
Since you've probably experienced one on your finger, you may be curious as to how it is measuring your oxygen saturation level of your blood without actually drawing any blood. The device uses a pair of light-emitting diodes that transmit two typs of lights through a thin part of your body (like your finger tip): red and infrared lights. Based on the measurement of how much light is able to pass through (oxygenated blood cells will absorb the infrared light, but let the red light pass through), it roughly calculates the percentage of hemoglobin binding sites in your cells that are currently holding oxygen.
Since it doesn't actually involve testing blood cells, pulse oximetry is not the most accurate method of measuring your oxygen saturation, as well as other factors like CO2 content, which can help determine how effectively your body is using the oxygen. However, it is still a quick and painless way to give a rough estimate that can help doctors home in on possible complications.
Why measure my oxygen saturation level?
People who have breathing difficulties or a respiratory illness may require oxygen therapy to help introduce more oxygen into their blood stream. Measuring your oxygen saturation using a pulse oximeter can help determine whether you could be suffering from an issue, although a closer examination is necessary to completely diagnose the cause and lead the way to the most suitable solution.
Those who are already aware of medical conditions that cause them poor oxygen saturation may use an oximeter for home use in order to regularly monitor their saturation levels and help them focus on maintaining a level over 90% during their daily activities. Some more advanced pulse oximeters can also assist users to manage their supplemental oxygen usage, watch their heart rate, and control their diseases.
How do I use a pulse oximeter?
The correct usage of a pulse oximeter may vary from brand to brand, but they are all generally made to be easy to use at home. If you are interested in types of oximeters, feel free to contact us to learn more and get advice on a device that suits your needs.