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How does a pulse oximeter work?
When you insert your finger into a pulse oximeter, it beams different wavelengths of light through your finger (you won’t feel a thing).
It’s targeting hemoglobin, a protein molecule in your blood that carries oxygen. Hemoglobin absorbs different amounts and wavelengths of light depending on the level of oxygen it’s carrying.
Your pulse oximeter will give you a numerical reading — a percentage that indicates the level of oxygen saturation in your blood. The device works better with warmer hands than cold hands.
And because oxygen levels can fluctuate, consider taking measurements a few times a day. Also try it in different positions, such as while lying flat on your back or while walking. Keep notes to share with your doctor if needed.
Does it matter what finger I use?
Most health technicians will place the device on the index fingers, but a study of 37 volunteers found that the highest reading came from the third finger on the dominant hand.
A close second was the dominant thumb. So if you are right-handed, use the right middle finger.
If you are left-handed, use the left middle finger. The difference between fingers is small, so if you prefer the index finger, that’s fine.
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A pulse oximeter is a small device that looks sort of like a chip clip or a big clothes pin.
You place your finger snugly inside (most require nail side up), and within seconds it lights up with numbers indicating your blood oxygen level and heart rate. Most healthy people will get an oxygen reading around 95 to 98 percent.
Some people with existing health conditions may have a lower normal reading. You should check in with your doctor if the number falls to around 93 or 92 or lower.
What you Need to Know About this Device
If your number dips to 92 or lower, you should check in with your doctor. But don’t panic.
The good news is that it’s a lot easier to bolster an oxygen level that is just starting to drop than one that is dangerously low.
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