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How Does a Pulse Oximeter Work?

How Does a Pulse Oximeter Work?

, by Aussie Pharma Direct, 5 min reading time

For a lot of us, prioritising our health often takes a backseat. But taking charge of your well-being doesn't have to involve frequent trips to the doctor's office.

We're all familiar with various respiratory management tools like nebulisers, inhalers, and mucus clearance devices. But what if there was a device that could directly assess your lungs' performance? If you’ve ever heard of or come across a pulse oximeter, it’s one of the a simple yet powerful tool that empowers you to monitor your oxygen levels right at home, offering a glimpse into how efficiently your lungs are working.

What is a pulse oximeter?

A pulse oximeter is a non-invasive medical device used to measure the oxygen saturation level (SpO2) in the blood and the heart rate. It's a small, portable device that typically clips onto a fingertip, although it can also be attached to other parts of the body such as the earlobe or toe.

How pulse oximeter works

The pulse oximeter works by emitting two wavelengths of light, usually red and infrared, through the skin and into the bloodstream. Haemoglobin, the protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen, absorbs these wavelengths differently depending on whether it is carrying oxygen or not.

The pulse oximeter detects the amount of light absorbed by the haemoglobin and calculates the oxygen saturation level based on the ratio of oxygenated haemoglobin to total haemoglobin in the blood. Additionally, it measures the pulsatile component of blood flow, allowing it to determine the heart rate.

What does the pulse oximeter measure?

A pulse oximeter provides two key readings. So in laymen terms, the readings are explained as below:

  • Oxygen saturation (SpO2) - This is a percentage of how much oxygen your red blood cells are carrying. 
  • Pulse rate - This is your heart rate measured in beats per minute.

Understanding oxygen saturation levels

Understanding oxygen saturation levels is crucial for assessing respiratory function and overall health. Normal oxygen saturation levels typically range from 95% to 100%. This means that 95% to 100% of the haemoglobin molecules in the arterial blood are carrying oxygen.

Monitoring oxygen saturation levels is essential for assessing respiratory function, especially in individuals with respiratory conditions or those at risk of respiratory compromise. A decrease in oxygen saturation levels can indicate respiratory distress or inadequate oxygenation of tissues, which may require prompt medical intervention.

But it's worth noting that oxygen saturation levels can vary by age, with normal ranges typically differing for infants, children, and adults. For example, newborn infants may have slightly lower normal oxygen saturation levels compared to older children and adults. Understanding these age-related differences is important for accurately interpreting oxygen saturation readings, particularly in pediatric patients and elderly individuals.

Who is the pulse oximeter for?

Pulse oximetry, offers invaluable benefits to a wide range of individuals, particularly those with respiratory conditions or at risk of respiratory compromise, such as:

  • Asthma
  • Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
  • Pneumonia
  • COVID-19
  • Anaemia
  • Heart failure
  • ARDS
  • Lung cancer

How to use the pulse oximeter

Using a pulse oximeter is relatively straightforward, and here's a step-by-step guide:

1. Prepare the device - Ensure that the pulse oximeter is clean and properly functioning. If it requires batteries, make sure they are inserted correctly and have sufficient charge.

2. Position yourself - Sit or lie down comfortably in a relaxed position. It's essential to keep your hand steady during the measurement process.

3. Prepare the finger - Remove any nail polish or artificial nails from the finger where you will place the pulse oximeter. Warm the finger if it's cold, as cold fingers can affect blood flow and accuracy.

4. Place the sensor - Slide your finger into the opening of the pulse oximeter sensor. Position it so that the sensor is directly over the fingernail, with the light source on one side and the light detector on the other.

5. Wait for reading - Once the pulse oximeter is securely in place, wait for the device to display your oxygen saturation level (SpO2) and heart rate. This typically takes a few seconds.

6. Record the results - Take note of your oxygen saturation level and heart rate. Some pulse oximeters may also display a waveform, indicating the strength of your pulse.

7. Repeat if necessary - If you're monitoring your oxygen saturation levels over time or during different activities, you may need to repeat the measurement periodically. Follow the same steps each time to ensure consistent and accurate readings.

8. Consult your healthcare provider - If you have concerns about your oxygen saturation levels or notice any significant changes, consult your healthcare provider for further evaluation and guidance.

Are there any good brands for pulse oximeter?

When it comes to pulse oximeters, there are numerous reputable brands known for producing high-quality medical devices. Some of the top brands include:

  • Suresense
  • Masimo
  • Nonin
  • ChoiceMMed
  • Contec
  • Zacurate
  • Innovo
  • Santamedical

Among these brands, SureSense stands out as a reliable option, offering accurate and dependable pulse oximeters. Plus, they’re made in Australia, so for those of you seeking a SureSense Pulse Oximeter, you're in luck! SureSense products are readily available, and one convenient place to find them is through Aussie Pharma Direct. Check them out.


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