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Pulse Oximeter is the one device that has made its way from ICU to household diagnostics in recent times. For decades, pulse oximetry was part of the highly expensive hospital equipment that existed in the realm of intensive care. Today just anyone can afford these gadgets.

What does a Pulse Oximeter Tell?

A Pulse Oximeter is a small device that is worn on a finger quite like a clip. It can tell the concentration of oxygen in the blood in few seconds. The beauty of this device lies in a fact that it weighs just few gram and one can carry it in the pocket. However, it is a powerful device, which shows some of the most vital signs. Apart from the oxygen concentration in blood, it can say about pulse rate and display an approximate picture of pulse quality. So with this device, you would never need to measure the pulse again. If a person, is suffering from severe respiratory diseases, it would accurately tell how well the oxygen is circulating in the blood.

In severe respiratory conditions, it would not only help in keeping an eye on vitals, but it would also help to correct the dosage of the medications. If one is unsure whether to take a puff of inhaler in asthma or COPD attack, it may help to regulate the things.

Interpreting the Values

Your Pulse Oximeter would show the oxygen saturation (SpO2) in percentages. In most cases, the doctor would expect the concentration to stay above 90%. Healthy individual values would remain about 96%, while values between 90-96% say about mild respiratory issues. If your values consistently fall below 90% then it is a reason to consult a doctor on an immediate basis. It means that therapy is not working.

Another thing that most people can easily interpret is the pulse rate. Anything between 60-100 is normal. However, if pulse rate is above 100, we call it as tachycardia, while below 60 we call it as bradycardia. Both tachycardia and bradycardia indicate something wrong with the cardiovascular or respiratory system. It is essential to understand that generally if oxygen concentration falls, heart rate would increase to compensate for the lower oxygen levels.

Applications of the Pulse Oximeter

As we already mentioned that it is a hospital grade diagnostic equipment, its relevance is more in severe respiratory conditions. This includes severe asthma and COPD, pneumonia, and emphysema.

One can also use it in certain heart conditions; as slow blood flow may also result in low oxygen concentration. Thus one can use it in heart defects, chronic heart conditions, and heart failure.

In some cases, it is also useful to monitor the severe cases of anemia, as lack of hemoglobin in blood would also show a lower reading.


It is 100% safe equipment, but it may provide wrong readings in some instances like diseases of the blood, in disorders of hemoglobin, in extreme cold, in diseases of peripheral blood vessels, in cardiac arrhythmia, if a person is shivering, in extremely bright lights.

Pulse Oximeter is an exceptionally versatile equipment and is readily affordable. With proper knowledge and understanding, it can be a useful diagnostic tool.

Reviewed by Dr. Preet Pal Singh Bhinder