*As always, please check with your Doctor and read our disclaimer here: https://pulmonaryrehab.com/health-disclaimer/

This little medical device could save your life!


What is it? 

It is a Pulse Oximeter, or Pulse Ox.


Here is our Ultimate Pulse Ox Guide and special bonuses


The Pulse Oximeter, or Pulse Ox, as it is commonly called, is a simple little device that can quickly tell you and your medical professionals essential information regarding your body and health. For example, a pulse ox will indicate whether or not your body is receiving enough oxygen through your blood stream as well as how hard your heart is working to maintain that level of oxygen saturation.  This information is extremely important especially if you have a pulmonary condition.


How can it save my life?


Low blood oxygen (SpO2) levels (consistently below 88%) can lead to irreversible cell and tissue death throughout your entire body.  This is especially concerning when we are talking about permanently damaging vital parts of your body such as your lungs, heart and brain.


Think about it; if you already have existing damage to your lungs, why kill or damage your remaining healthy lung tissue?


How does a pulse ox work?


Have you ever been in the dark and shined a flashlight through your fingers or somebody else’s ear to see what it looks like? This little device utilizes a similar concept.  A pulse ox works through a process called Spectrophotometry.  This is just a fancy way of saying the device shines a light through something and measures the result. One end of the pulse ox contains a sensor, while the other end contains a light.  All you have to do is put your finger between these 2 ends. But how does it work? The light shines through your finger (it doesn’t hurt) and the sensor measures the wavelength of the light given off by the particles that are passing by in your blood stream.  It then compares the readings acquired from your cells to those of a fully oxygenated blood cell and provides an oxygen reading in terms of a percentage of a total.  A reading of 95 provided by your pulse ox translates to a blood oxygen level (saturation or SAT) of 95%.


The second number is your pulse (heart rate).  The pulse is extrapolated by measuring the flow of these particles as they pass by the sensor each minute.  Very complicated for such a small device, right?


Who should be using a pulse ox?


  • Anyone with chronic shortness of breath
  • Anyone treating or screening patients for pulmonary related disorders
  • Anyone with a pulmonary condition such as:
    • COPD
    • Lung Cancer
    • Pulmonary Fibrosis
    • Emphysema
    • Asthma
    • Alpha One


Why should I use a pulse ox?


If you or a loved one are wearing oxygen or have shortness of breath, a pulse ox is one of the best tools you can invest in.  It will quickly and easily display your blood oxygen level (SpO2) as well as your pulse (heart rate).  This information will give you peace of mind in knowing you are using the correct dosage of supplemental oxygen.  Furthermore, it is helpful to share these numbers with your medical professionals so we can help you in the best possible way.


Some food for thought: your body must prioritize oxygen delivery to 3 vital organs- your brain, your lungs, and your heart. That being said, if your lungs are impaired, and therefore unable to deliver an adequate amount of oxygen to these organs, your body will pull the oxygen from the muscles being engaged in order to sufficiently oxygenate the vital organs.  Ideally, we don’t want organs or muscles being deprived of any oxygen. See the problem?


As we said before, low SpO2 levels (below 88%) leads to irreversible cell and tissue death throughout your entire body. Keeping this in mind, it is especially concerning when we are talking about permanently damaging parts of your lungs, heart and brain.  So once again we ask: if you have existing damage to your lungs, why kill your remaining healthy tissue?




If you do get a reading below 88%, you are unlikely to cause immediate cell and tissue death…UNLESS:


  1. You stay below 88% on a regular basis
  2. You remain below 88% for an extended period of time
  3. You are not using an adequate amount of oxygen (FiO2)


If you are noticing that your SpO2 is consistently dropping below 90%, please tell your Doctor and ask for a plan to correct this.


When should I use my pulse ox?


Right now. Put it on your finger and look at the readings.  Put it on different fingers as well as your other hand and take an average of all readings.  Now you have established your personal baseline.


Next, start keeping a log and writing down your numbers during your normal routine throughout the day (we have provided one for you below).  You will start seeing patterns emerge. For example, you may notice you get better readings either in the morning or in the evening.  Pay attention to typical activities like walking, stair climbing, and making the bed.  The readings you see may just surprise you (how low your oxygen dips and how high your heart rate rises).


Record not only your SpO2 and your Pulse, but also how much oxygen you are using at that time.


Here is what our sample Pulse Ox Diary looks like:


My Pulse Ox Diary


10/3/1409:45 am95%882LWalking dog68/sunny


You can download a printable PDF version (click on the link below)
My Pulse Ox Diary.pdf


What should my numbers be?


When looking at your pulse ox readings, you want to look at these factors:


Date:               So you can notice trends (Summer: heat/humidity vs Winter: cold/dry)


Time:               Some people have “better” times of the day.  For example: am vs pm


SpO2:             >90-92% (always check with your Doctor as to what your range should be)


Pulse:              70-100 at rest (also check with your Doctor for your personal safe pulse ranges)


FiO2:                How much oxygen (O2) are you using at that time (1liter, 2liters, pulse vs continuous, Room Air) Continuous and Pulse are NOT the same dosage!


Activity:          What activity are you doing at this time?  Notice trends


Weather:        Believe it or not the weather has a big factor on your breathing
(temperature, barometric pressure, humidity, ozone and allergens)


Are my numbers normal?


Nothing in medicine is really “normal.”  Just as every person is different, so are your numbers.  Talk to your Doctor and determine what YOUR average acceptable O2 and Pulse ranges are especially sitting, walking, sleeping etc.  Please try to maintain SpO2 >90-92%.


What if my numbers are low?


First, don’t worry!  There are many factors that can contribute to getting low readings.
Is it you or is it the device?  Check different fingers (excluding your thumbs) on both hands and take an average. Your Pulse Ox will also have a blinking, colored light indicating the strength and accuracy of the displayed reading:


Green: Usually a strong, reliable reading


Yellow/Red: Signals are inconsistent or indicate a low/inaccurate reading, –try a few different fingers on both hands for better reading and comparison


Low battery signal is telling you it is time to change the batteries, and then recheck your numbers


Quick tip:


Patients have recommended purchasing rechargeable batteries for your pulse ox so as to save money. You will be checking not only your own numbers, but also your family and friend’s SpO2 as well as pulse readings more often than you may think! Show off your new device and stay safe while maintaining a low budget with rechargeable batteries.


Please don’t get worried if your numbers are low. Remember this is just a snap shot, a brief moment in time.  If you notice that it is happening quite frequently, discuss this with your Doctor.


What if my numbers are consistently high?


Is it you or is it the device?  If you notice that it is happening quite frequently, check different fingers (except your thumbs) on both hands and take an average.  If your numbers are still consistently high, discuss this with your Doctor they may have you titrate (lower) your oxygen delivery device.


Factors possibly causing your low or inaccurate pulse ox readings:


  • Direct sunlight shining on the pulse ox
  • Hand/arm position- bending hand or arm constricting blood vessels
  • Nail polish (especially gel/thick or dark)
  • Perfusion- cold hands
  • Movement – if your hands are moving all over the place it can affect the readings
  • LOW BATTERY: if readings are constantly accompanied by the yellow/red light AND the numbers themselves are blinking, your pulse ox might need a change of batteries.


Which pulse ox should I get?


Ok, so by now you’re probably wondering which pulse ox you should get. Pulse ox’s range in price from $28 to $500 so, which is best for you?  The deciding factor when determining price of a pulse ox is accuracy, especially when your blood oxygen levels (SpO2) are low.  Since low SpO2 levels lead to cell and tissue death (lungs, heart and brain), we advise all of our patients to invest in the most accurate pulse ox they can afford.


With so much on the line we usually recommend these Pulse Oximeters, which cost on average between $89-$179.  They are very accurate and our patients get very consistent readings when using them.


Here is your Surprise bonus!!


We have arranged a special offer just for you from our friends at Turner Medical!


These Pulse Oximeters include FREE shipping in the USA
(Outside USA, shipping costs apply)


Very important:  These are NOT affiliate links and we DO NOT make any money by suggesting these.


We have experience with all of these products and we recommend them because they are helpful and useful, we DO NOT make any money by suggesting these.  Also, please do not spend any money on these products or services unless you feel you need them or that they will help you achieve your goals.


Please use the following codes to get your discounts:


Get $5 off the Nonin GO2 oximeter us the code PRA5 (case sensitive)
Get $15 off the 9590 use the code PRA15 (case sensitive)
Get $15 off the Nonin Connect (Apple only) use the coupon code PRA15 (case sensitive)
Get $50 off the Masimo MightySat (APPLE/ANDROID) use the code PRA50 (case sensitive)
The codes will only work on these specific models.  Coupon codes are active as of 2/8/18.


(Non Bluetooth) Finger Pulse Oximeters


For Patients:
Nonin Achieve GO2: $89
Get $5 off the Nonin GO2 oximeter when you use the code PRA5 (case sensitive)


For Clinicians:

Nonin Onyx: $179
Get $15 off the 9590 when you use the code PRA15 (case sensitive)



Bluetooth Finger Pulse Oximeters


Nonin Connect Bluetooth: $219
Get $15 off the Nonin Connect (Apple only) when you
use the coupon code PRA15 (case sensitive)


Masimo Might Sat Bluetooth: $399
Get $50 off the Masimo MightySat (APPLE/ANDROID) when you
use the code PRA50 (case sensitive)


I already have a pulse ox; do I need a new one?


Depending on the brand, your pulse ox could be misreading by as much as 5 points. If you keep in mind the sole purpose of a pulse ox is to keep you safe and avoid cell and tissue death, this misreading can be dangerous.


I am Short of Breath but my pulse ox is normal, why?


Pulmonary related SOB is not only caused by lack of oxygen.  It is caused by either: Low O2, High CO2 or a combination of both.  Stay tuned as we will be addressing this in an upcoming blog post.


In conclusion


I hope this has answered many of your questions regarding pulse oximeters. Furthermore, I hope you utilize the Pulse Ox diary we created for you to make it as easy as possible for you to track your numbers and open some dialogue between you and your Medical providers.  Finally, I hope you take advantage of the special discounts we have arranged for you so you can Breathe Better, Get Stronger and Live Longer!


Have a great day!


If you have found this helpful, please share it with some friends!



About the author:
David Junga, RRT is a Nationally Board Certified Registered Respiratory Therapist and Program Director at Pulmonary Rehabilitation Associates, LLC and PulmonaryRehab.com. David has been in private practice since 1999 and loves teaching patients how to overcome their shortness of breath.


David is also a Postural Alignment Specialist certified by the Egoscue University and Program Director at CT Pain Free. His other passion is teaching people how to eliminate chronic pain through simple yet powerful corrective exercises.