(WellnessPursuits.com) – When COVID-19 grew into a pandemic, it seemed that people were buying just about anything that could be considered medical or health-related. That included pulse oximeters, which flew off shelves and were hard to find for a while. Now they’re mostly back in stock around the world — but should you buy one? Here’s what you need to know about this easy-to-use, inexpensive little medical device and what it can tell you.
What is a Pulse Oximeter, Anyway?
A pulse oximeter, or “pulse ox,” is a small device that clips to the end of your finger. It uses a measurement of the amount of light your blood absorbs in order to indicate the level of oxygen in your blood. Specifically, it looks at how much oxygen is in your red blood cells and correlates it as a percentage of oxygen saturation and also measures your heart rate. Normal oxygen saturation is 95-100%.
These kinds of devices are often used in doctor’s offices, hospitals and other medical settings, but they can be purchased online, in most big-box stores and pharmacies, as well as some grocery stores, for at-home use.
How Should a Pulse Oximeter Be Used?
To use a pulse oximeter, clip it to the end of a finger. It doesn’t require any other connections and is simple to use. It’s powered by a battery, and everything that it needs is self-contained in the small unit.
Even though these little devices weren’t in widespread use outside of medical settings before the pandemic, they’ve become a medicine cabinet staple for many people today.
When is the Best Time to Use a Pulse Oximeter?
For people who have serious medical conditions or specific types of jobs or hobbies, using a pulse ox may be commonplace. Here are the best times to use a pulse oximeter:
- If you are concerned about COVID-19 or are treating it at home: People who may have COVID-19 and are treating it at home might also want to use a pulse oximeter to alert yourself to a condition called Silent Hypoxemia which can lead to pneumonia or respiratory failure. Pulse oximeters can successfully allowed patients to detect drops in oxygen saturation even before symptoms presented, allowing them to seek medical intervention earlier and improving medical outcomes.
- If you have sleep apnea: People with sleep apnea might use a pulse ox at night to track how low their oxygen saturation is dropping.
- If you have a heart or lung problem: Anyone who has heart or lung problems may also use these devices, both at times their doctors suggest and at times of their own choosing if they’re not feeling right or they just want to check their oxygen levels.
- If you are short of breath: Shortness of breath can have a lot of causes, and if a person isn’t getting enough oxygen it’s important to discover that quickly so it can be treated.
- If you are a pilot or a skydiver: Pilots and skydivers use this device to make sure they’re getting enough oxygen when they’re high up in the sky where the air is thinner and oxygen concentration in the environment is lower.
- If you are a runner: Runners also use a pulse ox in a lot of cases, because long-distance running can cause their oxygen levels to fall. They need to make sure they’re staying healthy, even when engaged in activities that should, technically, be good for them.
- If your healthcare provider suggests one: If a medical professional has suggested using a pulse oximeter it might be wise to purchase one and use it as directed.
There’s rarely a bad time to use a pulse oximeter. It’s easy to use almost anywhere and can be lifesaving for athletes, pilots, people with certain types of health conditions, and others.
When to Call for Help?
Oxygen saturation as measured by a pulse ox should be at least 90%. Readings lower than that should prompt a call to your healthcare provider or to a local nurse line for instructions. Sustained readings below 88% might require a call to 911 for emergency intervention.
Is Every Pulse Oximeter the Same?
The vast majority of pulse oximeters are mostly the same in that they work the same way and are similar in price. Even a very simple and inexpensive one will do for most people, but it’s a good idea to make sure you’re buying it from a reputable vendor. Pharmacies or medical device suppliers are the best locations to purchase a pulse oximeter. If you can’t find one there or you want to get one somewhere else, choose a big-box store that you’re familiar with and a name-brand product, if possible.
If you have serious medical conditions, make sure you talk to your doctor about which pulse oximeter is right for you. Not all pulse oximeters are created equal when it comes to people who have challenging or significant medical conditions. People with heart disease, COPD, and other vascular or breathing conditions may be at higher risk of problems and will need a blood oxygen monitor that’s going to be as accurate as possible.
Most people can benefit from having a pulse oximeter at home. COVID, pneumonia or even the flu can strike anyone at any time, so it’s best to be prepared. It’s also ideal for people who have lung diseases and other health conditions. Following your doctor’s recommendation is another good reason to obtain a pulse ox. It can be a valuable tool for those who are vulnerable, especially if you are in a position to need one.
~Here’s to Your Healthy Pursuits!
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