Pulse Oximeter

Pulse Oximeters: Now a Common Home Medical Device

Device to Measure Oxygen Saturation SpO2


Covid-19 has made us all aware of our respiratory systems and our ability to breath during the illness.  One tool in tracking your health is the pulse oximeter.  This little device can measure your pulse and your oxygen saturation level.


Powered by two AA-batteries, this device is lightweight and easy to use.  But there are definitely some important features to understand when using the pulse oximeter.  For example, your fingernails must be clean and clear of any polish.  The device works by sending a small beam of light through your finger.  This gathers information about your blood oxygen levels and your pulse.

How to Use a Pulse Oximeter

Are the Readings Helpful?


Experts warn us not to rely on the pulse oximeter as a panacea of information.  There is more to your respiratory health than you SpO2 and pulse.  


If you are being treated for a respiratory illness (like Covid-19) or disease (like COPD or Asthma), follow your doctor’s advice for managing the disease at home.  


Some doctors are worried that people will rely too heavily on the pulse oximeter device to tell you if you are in need of emergency care.  The American Lung Association says:


A pulse oximeter may be a recommended tool to use under the guidance of your healthcare provider to monitor symptoms, but it should not be relied upon without medical oversight, nor without paying heed to other signs and symptoms of illness.” 


Yet others, according to this article by Yale Medicine, believe that during these abnormal times, the pulse oximeter may be a helpful tool in monitoring symptoms of Covid-19 illness at home.  


  At this point [May 2020], Dr. Lutchmansingh says the benefits of pulse oximetry monitoring are most clear among patients who have COVID-19 symptoms such as cough, fever, and shortness of breath. “If you are symptomatic that is a reasonable time to check your oxygen. That is something we’ve been trying to do from an outpatient standpoint,” she says. “We have COVID-19 patients who we are monitoring at home and one of the deciding  factors for bringing them into the hospital is their oxygen level.”

Some medical providers are willing to go further and recommend pulse oximeters for home monitoring of Covid-19 because of something called Silent Hypoxia.  Dr. Richard Levitan, of Airway Cam Technologies, is of the opinion that home monitoring with a pulse oximeter will help patients know when their disease is escalating because they may be suffering from Silent Hypoxia.   


Silent Hypoxia is when your blood oxygen saturation drops dangerously low and you are not aware of the problem – thus the “silent” part.  Hypoxia is a condition where there is not enough oxygen in your tissue and blood.  It has been a real problem for some Covid-19 patients. It can also be a problem for people with pneumonia, asthma and COPD.  Your cells could be starting for oxygen and you would not know.


Purchasing a Pulse Oximeter

Follow your doctor’s advice when it comes to any home medical equipment.  Your local Durable Medical Equipment (DME) supplier can help with getting a pulse oximeter.  DME suppliers like Charron Medical Equipment are more than just a store.  Charron Medical will review your doctor’s order to be sure you are getting the right item. 


Although some insurances will cover DME, the pulse oximeter is rarely a covered item.  Fortunately, there are now affordable models available.  Charron Medical carries models available for home use ranging $40 to $50.


There is a lot to know about the accuracy of the pulse oximeter.  Be sure to review the FDA’s recent article about the accuracy and limitations of pulse oximeters.  Multiple factors can affect the accuracy, including:


  • Poor circulation
  • Skin pigmentation
  • Skin thickness
  • Skin temperature
  • Current tobacco use
  • Fingernail polish


If you are still not sure a pulse oximeter is for you, but want to see what the buzz is all about, come down to Charron Medical at 222 Main Street, Nashua.  At our store, you can try before you buy.  Look at the device to see how it works and if you want to buy.