A pulse oximeter is a device that monitors the amount of oxygen (oxygen saturation) in the blood. The readings from pulse oximeters help doctors assess how well oxygen is being transported from the patient's heart to the extremities. In addition to measuring oxygen levels, pulse oximeters provide continuous monitoring of the patient's heart rate and produce a waveform that indicates the strength of the pulse. Pulse oximeters are used in clinics and hospitals and are also available for home use. The devices are small clips worn on the patient's finger, toe, or earlobe. Patients who have asthma, heart disease, or other chronic conditions may be advised to purchase a pulse oximeter to use at home. Some pulse oximeters have recording capabilities and can send readings directly to doctor's offices. Pulse oximetry is entirely non-invasive and painless. For the most accurate readings, nails must be free of nail polish, and fingers must be clean.
In particular, regular use of a pulse oximeter can help with the steps and conditions described below.
Monitoring Oxygen Saturation Over Time
Pulse oximetry is perhaps most beneficial for monitoring oxygen saturation over time. When worn, pulse oximeters provide continuous monitoring of changes in oxygen saturation. Oxygen saturation readings are frequently taken by pulmonologists (lung specialists), and oxygen saturation is sometimes measured at routine physical examinations. Crucially, the devices can alert patients and doctors to changes that may need medical intervention such as additional oxygen, ventilation, or medication. For this reason, patients in the hospital routinely wear a pulse oximeter at all times. Since the oximeter contains a small red light that can generate heat, clinicians should move the probe to another finger or toe every two to four hours for patient comfort.
Patients with asthma and other respiratory conditions who are monitoring their oxygen saturation at home can observe patterns in their readings and share these with their doctors. For example, patients with certain lung conditions may experience a drop in oxygen saturation during the night. Reporting this can help patients receive the most effective treatment for their condition, and doctors may recommend additional therapies or more advanced treatments based on these readings. During surgery, anesthesia can reduce oxygen saturation levels. Pulse oximetry readings enable anesthesiologists to provide the safest level of anesthesia for each patient and to start oxygen therapy or make changes during the operation if necessary.
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Assess Need For Supplemental Oxygen
Pulse oximetry readings can help doctors assess the need for supplemental oxygen in patients known to have or who are suspected of having a lung condition or other condition that may reduce the oxygen in the blood. A normal oxygen saturation reading with a pulse oximeter is between ninety-five and one hundred percent. Most doctors recommend starting supplemental oxygen if pulse oximeter readings are consistently at eighty-eight percent or lower. Supplemental oxygen is used at home and is covered by most insurance plans.
Patients most often receive oxygen through a nasal cannula (nasal prongs), and it can also be administered through an oxygen mask that covers the mouth and nose. Oxygen for home use is available in metal tanks or as liquid oxygen. Most patients who use supplemental oxygen do so overnight. Depending on their condition's severity, patients may also need to use it during the day. In homes where supplemental oxygen is present, patients should avoid open flames and flammable materials.
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Peace Of Mind For Chronic Respiratory And Cardiovascular Patients
Using a pulse oximeter at home offers peace of mind for chronic respiratory and cardiovascular patients. Some of the patients who may benefit most from oximetry monitoring include individuals with lung cancer, asthma, anemia, pneumonia, congestive heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, heart failure, or a previous heart attack. Taking pulse oximetry readings is particularly important when patients are starting a new medication. The readings can help doctors determine whether a medication is working well or whether a change is needed. Patients with cardiac and respiratory conditions may be advised to wear a pulse oximeter for continuous monitoring during physical activity. Patients can check their readings while exercising to pace the intensity of their workouts. The measurements will enable patients to decide if they are excessively exerting themselves and see how different types of exercise affect their readings. Patients should keep a log of their readings and share them with their healthcare team.
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Assess Sleep Apnea Patients
In sleep apnea, patients stop breathing for a few seconds several times during the sleep cycle. Signs of this condition can include gasping for air, loud snoring, and a reduction in or the absence of breath sounds for a few moments. Sleep apnea is more common among smokers and individuals who are obese. The condition may cause patients to have a dry mouth, feel excessively tired during the day, and experience reduced motor skills and attention. Patients will undergo a sleep study to diagnose sleep apnea. During this study, patients will sleep overnight at a healthcare facility while wearing monitoring devices. Electrocardiogram, blood pressure, and oxygen saturation readings will all be continuously monitored during the sleep study to assess sleep apnea patients. Pulse oximetry readings will register a drop in oxygen levels when patients stop breathing. Patients who have sleep apnea often use a CPAP machine overnight to help the airway remain open. Sleep apnea patients may be advised to wear a pulse oximeter with a recording function at home overnight. The readings can help determine the effectiveness of prescribed treatments.
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Effectiveness Of Breathing Interventions
The use of pulse oximetry helps patients with asthma, sleep apnea, and other chronic conditions in determining the effectiveness of breathing interventions they have been prescribed. Common breathing interventions for respiratory conditions include supplemental oxygen, a CPAP machine or mouthpiece, inhalers, and ventilators. Doctors and nurses routinely use pulse oximetry monitoring to assess the level of supplemental oxygen or ventilation that a patient should receive. Hospital staff chart oxygen saturation and respiration rate changes at the patient's bedside, and adjustments to the treatment are made accordingly. Outside of the hospital, pulmonologists measure the oxygen saturation of their clinic patients to determine whether a long-term medication or treatment is working.