Taking a Pulse Oximetry Reading: What to Expect, Why to Do, and How to Do It

Your blood’s oxygen saturation level may be measured using pulse oximetry, which is a noninvasive procedure.

It is very sensitive to even the tiniest variations in oxygen concentration. Using this information, you can see how well your blood is delivering oxygen to your arms and legs.

In the form of a clip, the pulse oximeter measures oxygen saturation levels in the blood. Typically, it is attached to a finger.

Emergency rooms and hospitals are two places where they’re often used by medical personnel. Pulmonologists, for example, may utilize them in their offices. Even at home, you may make use of one.

Purpose and uses

The goal of pulse oximetry is to determine how effectively your blood is oxygenated.

Medical workers may utilize pulse oximeters to monitor the health of persons suffering from illnesses that alter blood oxygen levels, particularly those in the hospital.

These are some examples:

  • COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) (COPD)
  • asthma
  • pneumonia
  • Anemia due to lung cancer
  • cardiac arrest or heart failure
  • heart defect during birth

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

  • to evaluate the efficacy of a new lung drug
  • to determine if someone needs assistance breathing
  • to assess how useful a ventilator is
  • to monitor oxygen levels during or after sedation-induced surgical operations
  • to assess whether someone need supplementary oxygen treatment
  • to assess the efficacy of supplemental oxygen therapy, particularly when the treatment is new
  • to measure someone’s tolerance for increasing physical activity
  • to determine if someone briefly stops breathing while sleeping, as in sleep apnea instances, during a sleep study

How to take a reading

Pulse oximetry has the potential to be beneficial in both inpatient and outpatient settings. In rare situations, your doctor may advise you to purchase a pulse oximeter for home usage.

To use a pulse oximeter, you will need to:

  • If you’re measuring from this point, take off any jewelry or nail paint on your finger.
  • If you’re connecting the device here, make sure your hand is warm, relaxed, and below your heart level.
  • Put the gadget on a finger, earlobe, or toe.
  • Allow the gadget to monitor your pulse and oxygen saturation for as long as necessary.
  • When the test is finished, remove the gadget.

Small beams of light flow through the blood in your finger to measure the quantity of oxygen. Pulse oximeters do this by detecting variations in light absorption in oxygenated or deoxygenated blood, according to the British Lung Foundation. This is a simple procedure.

The pulse oximeter will show you your oxygen saturation levels as well as your heart rate.

Pulse oximetry readings

Blood oxygen levels may be estimated, although pulse oximetry tests tend to be quite accurate. High-quality medical equipment, such as that found in most medical offices and hospitals, makes this even more important. Medical practitioners will be able to correctly perform the tests thanks to this technology.

In order for prescription oximeters to meet FDA requirements, they must be accurate within a range of 4 to 6 percent.

Over 89% of your blood should contain oxygen, according to the American Thoracic Society. This is the degree of oxygen saturation required to maintain the health of your cells.

Temporarily falling below this level of oxygen saturation may not cause any harm. However, low oxygen saturation levels that occur on a regular basis or repeatedly may be harmful.

Most healthy persons have an oxygen saturation level of 95 percent. Hypoxemia, or low blood oxygen levels, may be indicated by a reading of 92 percent or below.

Readings may be affected by a person’s skin tone, among other things.

Detecting hypoxemia in Black and white patients using pulse oximetry and blood gas measures was shown to be equally accurate, according to a 2020 study.

Pulse oximetry methods failed to identify occult hypoxemia in Black patients three times as often as blood gas measures did, according to a study.

Without considering a wide range of skin tones, tests like these were created. Research is required to explain and rectify this racial prejudice, say the authors.

What’s next?

The results will be accessible soon when the exam is completed. If more testing or treatment is required, this will assist them identify it.

When analyzing the effectiveness of your oxygen supplementation treatment, for example, a value that is still low can suggest that additional oxygen is needed.

What’s next? That’s something only your doctor can tell you. They will tell you how frequently to take your readings and what to do if they go over or below particular limits if you are using pulse oximetry at home.


One of the most convenient and pleasant tests is pulse oximetry. Aside from some skin irritation caused by the glue used in certain kinds of probes, there are no hazards associated with this procedure.

For persons with darker skin tones, it’s not as precise as professional blood gas tests.

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