What is a Pulse Oximeter?

August 29, 2020
Janelle Thomas MSN, RN
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When a loved one has been diagnosed with a serious medical condition, you have to take some time to process the information — deal with the shock and assimilate how it’s going to change your life and the life of your loved one. In addition, you have to become familiarized with an entirely new vocabulary. This is necessary to better understand the healthcare professionals working on the case, as well as to learn of the best forms of treatment for your family. One of these new terms may be a pulse oximeter. What, exactly, is it? How does it work? And, where can you buy one?

What is a pulse oximeter?

A pulse oximeter is a small device that’s used to measure oxygen levels in the blood. It is most commonly clipped to a finger, and it causes no pain. Once attached, it verifies whether the heart is pumping oxygen effectively throughout the body. It’s a good way to monitor the health of individuals with certain medical conditions, including:

By verifying oximeter results, a healthcare provider is able to determine whether a patient needs supplemental oxygen therapy or medications. It also allows them to monitor blood oxygen levels during and after surgical procedures. If a person is already receiving oxygen therapy or medications, a pulse oximeter will allow a caregiver to assess whether these forms of therapy are working effectively.

How does a pulse oximeter work?

A pulse oximeter works by sending minute beams of light through the blood. These beams measure your heart rate — and depending on the level of light absorption, the device is able to read whether blood is oxygenated enough.

Although the clip-on is usually placed on a person’s fingers, an oximeter can also be used on toes or earlobes. If it’s attached to a finger, you will have to remove nail polish first in order to ensure an accurate reading. The person wearing the oximeter will feel a slight pressure. However, the device does not cause any pain.

How long to wear a pulse oximeter depends on the patient’s circumstances. If it’s used for a single reading, the process only takes a few seconds. If it’s used to monitor oxygen levels during an operation, the oximeter will be attached to the person prior to surgery and removed once the anesthesia wears off.

If a person’s blood oxygen levels show that more than 89% of the blood is carrying oxygen, the person is considered to have adequate oxygenation. If it’s lower, the patient will likely need supplemental oxygenation to avoid damage to their organs.

Where can you buy a pulse oximeter?

Although pulse oximeters are often used in hospital settings, they can also be used at home. You can purchase devices for either adult or pediatric patients at most major online retailers — such as Amazon or big-box pharmacy websites. You can also purchase them at regular brick and mortar drugstores.

How can a pulse oximeter be helpful for caregivers?

If a person is experiencing typical symptoms of low oxygen levels — such as fatigue or shortness of breath — you may be able to determine whether it’s time for oxygen therapy. However, symptoms aren’t usually as noticeable. In some cases, a patient’s medical condition may make it difficult or impossible to communicate how they’re feeling. In addition, sometimes you may just want to determine whether a loved one has the ability to handle increased levels of activity, or if they are suffering from sleep apnea.

Contact Care Options for Kids For Pediatric Home Health Care

It can be hard to balance your time between work, home, and caring for a child. That’s why our team of skilled professionals at Care Options for Kids is here to help.

Our home health care services offer support in the comfort of your home. We refer loving and competent nurses to provide customized care for families — from a few hours a day to around-the-clock supervision. Contact us directly to speak with a home health care professional or request a free in-home assessment. Together we can determine the best plan of action to keep your loved ones happy and healthy.

If you are considering pediatric home health care services, contact the caring staff at Care Options for Kids. Call today at (888) 592-5855.