Although you may associate a pulse oximeter with a hospital, using one at home can be beneficial, too. Perhaps your doctor has requested that you use a pulse oximeter to gather data about your health while at home. Or perhaps you’d simply like to have your own pulse oximeter so you can keep tabs on your health and stay on top of illness.
Even if you don’t know anything about pulse oximeters, you can still make a smart buying decision with the right information in hand. We perform extensive research in every product category. To avoid bias, we always decline offers from manufacturers for “free” samples. We want to be your go-to source for honest, thorough product reviews you can trust.
What is pulse oximetry?
When a doctor seeks pulse oximetry information, he or she wants to measure the level of oxygen saturation in the blood. This data helps professionals determine how well the body’s organs are working.
A pulse oximeter is a small device that clips over a fingertip. Some people confuse pulse oximetry with the blood-drawing process, but these are two separate tests. A pulse oximeter doesn’t pierce the skin.
The light detector receives light
On the other side of unit’s interior is a light detector. It receives and measures the intensity of the light the generator creates.
Light passes through the finger
If your finger was not in the pulse oximeter, the light would easily travel from the generator to the detector. But with your finger in the device, much of the light is blocked and absorbed before it reaches the detector. The detector measures the amount of light that passes through your finger to reach the detector.
The unit interprets light absorption
By measuring the light, the pulse oximeter determines the oxygenation of your blood. Hemoglobin absorbs light waves when it carries oxygen. Additionally, the pulse oximeter uses the light data to measure blood vessel size and non-oxygenated hemoglobin. Within seconds, the pulse oximeter uses this data to determine your oxygenation level.
Types of pulse oximeters
Because all pulse oximeters adhere to the same basic design, they’re differentiated only by their physicality. You might choose one of three types: a fingertip clip with a screen, a wristband screen with a fingertip clip, or a handheld screen with a fingertip clip.
Fingertip clip with screen
This pinches onto about half of the index finger. (It doesn’t pinch tightly enough to cause pain.) Similar to the operational design of a clothespin, this is the most common type of pulse oximeter for home use.
The screen and unit are all contained in one device, so you can carry it anywhere. This design is typically also the fastest to set up and use. It gives quick readings after physical activity, which some doctors like to have in their data arsenal. This is the easiest type of design to use at home.
Even though the display screen is sharp, it’s also small. Some people may have trouble reading the screen’s small text.
Handheld screen with fingertip clip
This is the type of oximeter you’re most likely to encounter in a hospital. The clip fits onto about half of the index finger and attaches to a handheld device with a wire. The handheld portion, which is about the size of a thick smartphone, contains a display screen and may also sport control buttons. Alternatively, the fingertip clip may connect via wire to a larger display screen that contains additional data from multiple sensors on the body.
The handheld screen gives you more control over the unit’s operation than other designs. (Other designs are so small that they won’t have many, if any, control buttons.) This design typically boasts a larger display screen, making it easier to read.
This older design is not very portable. You’re limited in the types of activities you can perform while wearing it, as you must hold the unit in one hand. It’s not ideal for use during sleep, and it’s not really designed for at-home use, either.