How To Read Pulse Oximeters

Time was when pulse oximeters were used exclusively for clinical purposes only. Doctors and medical staff were the only ones who could read and interpret the numbers for medical diagnosis. Made in the 1940s, they became popular in 1972 and were later available commercially in 1981. At present pulse oximeters come in portable models and are easily carried around.

A pulse oximeter is used to gauge the oxygen content of blood through a sensor located at the end of a capillary bed. The information derived from a pulse oximeter helps physicians to know the composition of a person’s blood – his hemoglobin, platelets, white blood cells, plasma counts and most of all, the oxygen level. To read pulse oximeters, read these tips:

  • Make sure the pulse oximeter has enough power source. If it is the portable type that is run by batteries, see to it that the batteries are new. If it works with AC power, plug it to the right voltage electrical socket. A unit with 220 voltage should never be plugged into a 110 socket lest it will cause irreparable damage on the device.
  • Place the pulse oximeter on a steady and flat surface. The stand or table should not be shaky as any unnecessary movements might alter the readings. Digital oximeters are particularly sensitive even with just a slight shake.
  • Set up the unit by connecting and clipping all the wires and gauge meters. Prepare the patient (or yourself for that matter) before connecting the attachments from the instrument.
  • Determine the spot where you will make the exploration. The usual parts of the body that are used in the probe are the finger and earlobe. If you choose the earlobe, push away the hair so it will not intervene with the calibration. On the other hand if the finger is used for probing, make sure the nails are clean and polish-free so there is closer connection with the skin. Wipe the skin on the earlobe or finger with alcohol before placing the clamps of the pulse oximeters.
  • Clamp on the instrument on the earlobe or finger. Do not press the diodes too much so as not to hamper free flow of blood. Switch the pulse oximeter and wait while it takes the readings.
  • Note down the readings as well as the date and time they are taken. If the pulse oximeter recorded an oxygen level that is below ninety five percent, more laboratory examinations must be recommended. But if the reading indicates ninety and above, the oxygen level is normal.
  • Consider other factors that may have caused the present oxygen level shown in the monitor. When the person had an intense physical activity before the probe was done, oxygen content is higher. If however he has been in rest mode prior to the examination, the oxygen level of blood will most likely be lower.
  • Record the heart and pulse rate for reference. Normal pulse rate for grown ups range from 60 to 80 beats per minute while children have higher number of pulse beats from 80 to 150 and 120 up to 150 beats with infants.

If the oxygen level is very low, seek immediate medical attention. Also, aside from basing your assumption on the figures generated by a pulse oximeter, try to evaluate the overall physical condition of the person such as color of the eyes, skin and other symptoms that may cause his present condition.


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