Home Pulse Oximetry Tips

A home pulse oximeter is an essential and reassuring tool for many patients who use supplemental oxygen. Not only will monitoring your oxygen saturation level at home provide your doctor with better insight as to the progression of your lung disease, but, with your doctor’s guidance, it will allow you to adjust your oxygen flow according to your activity level saving you time in hours spent at your doctor’s office.

Understanding Your Pulse Oximeter

The pulse oximeter is a noninvasive device that measures your oxygen saturation level, or how well the hemoglobin in your arterial blood is saturated with oxygen. The best part about an oximeter: it rapidly detects changes in oxygenation, providing patients and clinicians with an early warning of dangerously approaching or existing hypoxemia (low blood oxygen). A pulse oximeter complements – it does not replace – spirometry in the diagnosis and management of sudden and long-term respiratory illnesses.

Pulse oximeters for in-home use are small, battery-powered and easy to use. You simply attach it to your finger and your oxygen saturation level, as a percentage, will appear on the screen. Normal oxygen saturation levels run between 95% and 100%. A pulse oximeter also displays your heart rate. The normal resting heart rate for an adult is between 60 and 100.

Tips for Using Home Pulse Oximetry

Once you purchase a home pulse oximeter, take it to your next doctor’s appointment so she can provide you with more details on how to use it. Record your oxygen saturation levels on a chart, along with your daily activities, and show them to your doctor. Your doctor will give you a target oxygen saturation level that she would like you to maintain along with an oxygen flow rate that is likely to keep your oxygen saturation at this level. When your oxygen saturation falls below your target goal, your doctor will show you how to titrate your oxygen so that your oxygen saturation returns to the target rate. In general, your oxygen saturation should be greater than 90% during all activities.

Here are a few more tips for in-home use of getting pulse oximeter readings:

  • Work with your doctor on titrating your oxygen flow. Do not titrate oxygen without specific instruction from your doctor.
  • Use your oximeter anytime; at rest or during any type of physical activity. Record oxygen saturation levels for each activity you participate in and show them to your doctor.
  • You’re likely to require more oxygen during any kind of physical activity or when traveling aboard an airplane. Plan your oxygen supply accordingly.
  • A sudden drop in your oxygen saturation level may be a sign of something serious. Call your doctor right away when your normal oxygen flow rate is no longer maintaining your target oxygen saturation level.
  • Check with your doctor to determine an acceptable resting pulse rate. Call your doctor when your resting pulse rate falls below or exceeds what is acceptable.
  • Do not rely solely on a pulse oximeter to tell you something’s wrong. It is entirely possible to have severe shortness of breath and a normal pulse oximeter reading. Seek emergency medical attention if you experience severe shortness of breath and/or other abnormal symptoms, even if your oxygen saturation level is normal. 
  • Nail polish or artificial nails may affect your oxygen saturation reading. If you can’t get a good reading on your finger, try your toes instead.
  • Getting a good oximetry reading requires adequate blood flow through your tissues. When your hands and fingers are cold, blood flow is impaired and you may not get a good reading. Warm your hands by rubbing them together or placing them under warm water before measuring your oxygen saturation level.
  • Do not submerge your oximeter in water.
  • Remember, oxygen alone may not fully relieve shortness of breath. Exercising on your own (with your doctor’s approval) or participating in a cardio-pulmonary rehabilitation program is recommended for anyone suffering from a chronic illness that requires the use of supplemental oxygen.


Author: Deborah Leader RN, BSN, PHN


COPD Alert. Clinical Use of Pulse Oximetry. Pocket Reference 2010.

One thought on “Home Pulse Oximetry Tips”

  1. DeEtta Kuriger says:

    Where may I get an pulse oximeter that doesn’t cost $35.00 or more

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