How to Use a Pulse Oximeter at Home

Feb 8, 2022

How to Use a Pulse Oximeter at Home

If you are experiencing shortness of breath, difficulty breathing or an elevated pulse rate, an at-home pulse oximeter can be a useful monitoring tool to help track your oxygen levels and heart rate. The consistent and correct use of an oximeter can help track blood oxygen levels and encourage patients to seek professional medical care at the proper time, thus helping to save lives.

However, the effectiveness of an oximeter is dictated by your ability to operate it. It is essential to understand how to use a pulse oximeter correctly to help ensure the most accurate results.

How to use a pulse oximeter accurately

Follow these seven steps to learn how to use a pulse oximeter at home. Before beginning your reading, please read the directions that pertain to your specific pulse oximeter model.

1. Prepare your hands

Wash and dry your hands. Remove any jewellery and nail decorations such as nail polish or false nails, as these can cause an inaccurate reading.

2. Warm your hand

A cold, shivering or shaking hand may result in an inaccurate reading. Gently warm your hand to encourage blood flow.

3. Rest in a seated position

Rest your hand and body for at least 5 minutes, preferably in a sitting position, before taking a reading.

4. Attach the oximeter

Fit the device to your finger, either by clipping it on or attaching it with tape. It is recommended that you use the index finger of either hand, though you may also use either of your middle fingers.

5. Activate the oximeter

Turn the device on. Keep your hand resting below your heart — for example, on a chair or table — and hold as still as possible.

6. Complete the reading

Allow the oximeter to read for at least 1 minute to ensure the most accurate results possible. If the reading keeps changing, allow it to stabilise. Do not adjust or press on the oximeter during this time

7. Remove the oximeter

Record the results from the pulse oximeter screen once the reading has stopped changing and displays a steady number. Remove the device and wipe it clean, then store it away for its next use.

For the most accurate results, you should complete readings three times a day at the same time each day. Record your readings in a dedicated space and remember to include the date and time as well as the results for both oxygen saturation and heart rate.

Special cases: How to use a pulse oximeter on an infant

Children who weigh more than 30 kg or who are over 10 years old may use an adult pulse oximeter, providing that their fingers are long enough to reach the sensor. Children under these limits may require a child’s pulse oximeter to ensure accurate results (1).

The process for taking a reading for a child or infant is the same as above, though in special circumstances, readings may be taken via the toes, ear lobes, hands or feet. It is important to ensure that the child or infant is as comfortable, calm and still as possible to allow for a valid reading.

Understanding your pulse oximeter results

After learning how to check your oxygen level with an oximeter, you must understand what to do with the results.
Every pulse oximeter reading should contain two important numbers:

  • The blood oxygen saturation level, or SpO2
  • The pulse rate, or bpm/PRbpm

The ideal oxygen level for most people will fall between 95% and 100%. Some individuals such as those in higher altitudes or with lung problems may have a consistently lower level (2). An ideal heart rate is between 50 to 90 beats per minute (bpm).
It is important to record your results in a dedicated space, as this can help determine any trends with your heart rate or blood oxygen level. If at any time you record a low reading, or if you notice a decreasing trend with readings, seek out medical assistance.

When to seek medical care

The Australian Government Department of Health, the US Food and Drug Administration, and the UK have recently released statements regarding the potential inaccuracy of pulse oximeters, along with a warning that at-home patients and care providers should not rely wholly on pulse oximetry as a measure of wellbeing (3)(4)(5).

If your blood oxygen drops below the recommended level, don’t panic but do reach out to a medical professional. You should also seek medical care if you experience other low oxygen symptoms such as:

  • Blue skin tone, especially around the face or nails
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Chest pain or tightness in the chest
  • An increased heart rate
  • A worsening cough
  • General deteriorating health conditions

If you still have questions concerning how to use an oximeter or are seeking a pulse oximeter for at-home use, please reach out to Mega Medical on 1300881824.