What is an oximeter and how does it work?

The second wave of COVID-19 hit hard on the nation. It truly tested out our medical infrastructure and gloriously displayed its flaws. But amid all this, everyone is trying to do the very best they can to protect themselves consciously. One such measure is the use of a device called an “oximeter,” whose function is to tell you your blood oxygen concentration and because COVID is a respiratory disease. This device plays a huge role in protecting yourself amid this pandemic.

Ever wondered how that handy little device you’ve been using works? How can it accurately tell you your Oxygen Concentration in a matter of seconds? Read on to find out.

Here are the basics

A pulse oximeter clips onto your finger and sends small beams of light to measure the oxygen concentration present in the blood. It determines this concentration based on the change in light absorption in oxygenated or deoxygenated blood. All done externally with no pain or needles involved.

How it works in depth?

When you clip the oximeter to your finger, two light sources and a photodetector work together to give you the numbers. One red and another infrared light pass through your fingers into the photodetectors. Blood with a high oxygen concentration absorbs a lot more infrared light and lets a lot of red light pass. Meanwhile, it’s the opposite if you have a low oxygen concentration because blood cells with less oxygen appear blue.

How to use an oximeter

  • Perhaps the most important thing is to rest for at least 10 minutes before you take your reading. Unlike what you may have heard, walking for 10 minutes or doing some intensive activity and checking your oxygen concentration is not the right way. 
  • Firmly place your finger all the way in and keep it stable. 
  • Consider the highest reading after the numbers stabilize.
  • Make sure the device’s light rays are in direct contact with the skin and not the nails.

Factors that can effect reading

Several factors can affect the Oximeter reading. Hence never take these readings for granted. A few of them are:

  • Skin tone 

Skin with a higher pigment density may cause certain oximeters to give a slightly higher reading than the actual number

  • Poor Blood Circulation

It will cause a lower number than the actual one

  • If your hands are icy or have water on them
  • Fingernail Polish
  • Bruises or tattoos on the fingertips

All of the above can cause the reading to be inaccurate. The number can be higher or lowest because of the above reasons.

Signs that show a low oxygen level in the body

  • Difficulty in Breathing
  • Dizziness 
  • Fast & Shallow Breathing
  • Blue tinged lips or face

What is spo2?

SPO2 measures how much oxygen-carrying hemoglobin is present in your blood as compared to hemoglobin not carrying oxygen. We respirate aerobically and hence need a certain oxygen level in the blood for our body to function normally. Low levels of oxygen most commonly result in Hypoxemia. SPO2 and oxygen saturation refer to the same thing. 

How our body maintains a certain sp02 level?

To prevent the various health issues caused by low oxygen levels. An optimum SPO2 level is crucial. Thankfully, our body is self-sustaining and usually does this, by itself,. By breathing and binding the oxygen to hemoglobin, the body easily transports oxygen where needed. During any form of intensive activities, physical or physiological. There becomes a need for a lot more oxygen, which the body usually adapts to as long as they are not too extreme. But even then, this is the very reason you should not indulge in any intensive activities before measuring your SPO2 level, as if you were running a lot before you measured your oxygen level through your fingertips. You may see a lower oxygen level in your finger because a lot of the oxygen would have traveled to your knees or feet.

Don’t hoard, but it’s a good idea to get one as soon as you can

With everything amidst the pandemic, it is always necessary to put a word of caution. Do not hoard oximeters. Everyone in the family can use one unit. They used this device externally and can easily need to be sanitized using medical alcohol. It is always good to remember that whenever you buy anything you don’t need, you’re taking it away from someone who did. While we are discussing all of this, there is a straightforward way to avoid any complications. Trust me, it’s a very simple thing. Just wear a mask. Wash your hands as frequently as you can. WE WILL COME OUT OF IT

– Aditya Drolia

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