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Before Covid, the last time you came in contact with a pulse oximeter was at your annual check-up or in an emergency room. But what exactly is a pulse oximeter, and in what situation would a person need to use one at home?
A pulse oximeter is a small, chip clip-looking device that uses light to quickly measure blood oxygen levels and pulse rate, also known as your heart rate. Your pulse is how many times your heart beats per minute, and it increases when you require more oxygen-rich blood to carry nutrients and energy to your muscles and cells. Oxygen saturation is a crucial measure of lung performance.
"A pulse oximeter measures the oxygen saturation on the red blood cells and we use it as a measure of how well somebody's lungs are working and how well they're accepting oxygen from the air they're breathing," says Dr. Fady Youssef, M.D., a board-certified pulmonologist, internist and critical care specialist at MemorialCare Long Beach Medical Center in Long Beach, California.
People suffering with Covid may experienced an increased heart rate in response to fever or inflammation, as your heart works harder to pump more blood around to all the different parts of your body. In severe cases, the infection moves down the respiratory tract to the lungs, making it harder for your lungs to supply oxygen to the bloodstream. The Center for Disease Control suggests that people seek medical attention when they experience overt symptoms such as “trouble breathing” and “persistent pain or pressure in the chest.” Depending on the severity of your case or if you're at at higher risk of adverse outcomes due to advanced age or obesity, your doctor may recommend measuring your vitals at home with a a pulse oximeter.
A pulse oximeter is practical for conditions outside of Covid. For patients with lung disease or who are on home oxygen concentrators to maintain healthy oxygen levels, Dr. Youssef says it may be useful to have a pulse oximeter at home. A doctor will provide instructions for when and how to take and read a pulse oximeter, but Dr. Youssef provided us with what he considers a normal range of oxygen saturation.
Read more: Best Heart Rate Monitors
"For most healthy individuals, a healthy reading is probably greater than 94 percent, but we don't get concerned until it's below 90 percent consistently."
According to Dr. Youssef, not all pulse oximeters available for purchase online are legit. Pulse oximeters are FDA-approved medical devices, so you'll want to check the FDA's database to ensure the manufacturer and model number have been tested and approved for accuracy.
Luckily, we've already done the work for you and rounded up a list of the best pulse oximeters available on the market that are also FDA-approved. If you're suffering from Covid or another medical condition that affects your lungs and want to monitor your oxygen saturation levels at home, check out the pulse oximeters below.
The Best Pulse Oximeters
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Wireless Fingertip Pulse Oximeter
Trusted and reliable, this pulse oximeter is used by many telemedicine programs in the U.S. The accompanying app tracks your levels and stores the data, making it easy for health professionals to monitor your health. The app also shows you the real time plethysmograph (the SpO2 waveform) and perfusion index, letting you know instantly if you're taking your pulse rate properly.
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Pulse Oximiter with Relaxation Coach
This Bluetooth-enabled pulse oximeter pairs with an app to measure your levels. The app uses that data to provide personalize breathing exercises to zero-in on your best relaxation breathing rate, which they say can improve your body’s natural response to stress.
Pulse 7 Pro
The Oxiline Pulse 7 Pro has more than 23,000 reviews and nearly a perfect five-star rating. Reviewers rave about its speed and accuracy, saying it gives them peace of mind. It comes highly recommended by nurses and doctors caring for patients with Covid and other lung illnesses.
CMS-50D1 Fingertip Pulse Oximeter Blood Oxygen Sensor
For another easy-to-use option, this pulse oximeter is extremely handy. Overall, customers report accurate results and highly recommend it for the affordable price.
Finger-Clamp HD OLED Pulse Oximeter
We love this pulse oximeter for the gorgeous mint color and bright OLED display, which provides a clear and sharp reading. The device also shows the pulse rate bar graph and plethysmograph for maximum transparency into your lung capacity.
Fingertip Pulse Oximeter
This pulse oximeter is pricy due to its trusted reputation. It's the primary pulse oximetry at 9 of the top 10 U.S. hospitals as ranked in 2020-21 U.S. News and World Report Best Hospitals Honor Roll, and it's trusted by care providers around the world to monitor more than 200 million patients each year. For hospital-grade accuracy, this is your best bet.
O2 SpO2 Bluetooth Fingertip Pulse Oximeter
The FORA O2 SpO2 monitors your levels while you sleep, which is useful for anyone that thinks they suffer from sleep apnea. The device also has a companion app which performs functions like a heart rate variability analysis and guides you through breathing exercises to regulate your heart rate.
CMS-50D Pulse Oximeter
This affordable option measures your SPO2 and pulse rate on-the-go, which is convenient for athletes who are trying to optimize their performance by increasing their lung capacity. Featuring a battery-saving automatic power off function and a heart rate bar graph, this device provides quick, reliable readings.
MD300W314 Wrist Pulse Oximeter Recording
This pulse oximeter measures your blood saturation through a pad you wear on your finger connected to a wrist display. This is ideal for anyone who wants to track their levels overnight, as it's more likely to stay put throughout the night. It also has audible alarms that are configurable for both oxygen level and heart rate for instantaneous reporting.
Onyx Vantage 9590 Finger Pulse Oximeter
Nonin invented the world's first fingertip pulse oximeter back in 1994 and they quickly became must-haves for medical professionals and patients alike. When consumers started adding pulse oximeters to their home medical kits during the pandemic, Nonin was a trusted name. Their Onyx Vantage 9590 Finger Pulse Oximeter built to last and provides comfort for anyone suffering from breathing illnesses.
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