A human body without oxygen is like a fireplace without a fire. Even if your body has enough fuel, none of it will burn without O2. Just as fire converts wood into heat, oxygen transforms sugars and fatty acids into energy.
No organ can survive for long without a constant supply of oxygen-rich blood. One of the most important organs in the human body– the brain– is particularly sensitive to oxygen deprivation. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, some brain cells can only survive for about five minutes without O2.
Hypoxemia occurs when your SpO2 (Peripheral Capillary Oxygen Saturation) drops below a healthy threshold. Common symptoms of hypoxemia include headaches, confusion, coughing, wheezing, elevated blood pressure and blue skin. Though hypoxemia usually affects people with lung problems, healthy people can also suffer its effects. Mountain climbers sometimes experience hypoxemia when they reach very high altitudes. Intense exercise can induce hypoxemia, as well.
If you’re concerned about your blood oxygen level, you may want to think about purchasing a pulse oximeter. Consumer-grade pulse oximeters are non-invasive, very affordable, portable and surprisingly accurate. They’re also extremely easy to use. Essentially all you have to do is press a button and then wait around 10 seconds for your results. Though pulse oximeters aren’t meant to be used as medical devices, they can help you notice actionable trends if you use them consistently.
Here are the best pulse oximeters you can buy:
- Innovo’s Deluxe Fingertip Pulse Oximeter is a highly accurate pulse oximeter that’s equipped with several features that make sure you take proper readings.
- People with active lifestyles will want to check out Zacurate’s 500BL Fingertip Pulse Oximeter. It’s small, tough and can be worn around the neck.
- The best thing about Santamedical’s Generation 2 Fingertip Pulse Oximeter is its bright, easy-to-read display.
- Zacurate’s Pro Series 500DL Fingertip Pulse Oximeter makes batteries last an extra long time thanks to its above-average energy efficiency.
- Since it comes with not only a carrying case but also a silicon scratch guard, AccuMed’s CMS-50D Fingertip Pulse Oximeter is perfect for taking measurements while traveling.
The most accurate pulse oximeter
Innovo Deluxe Fingertip Pulse Oximeter
No consumer-grade oximeter is as accurate as the kind doctors use in hospitals. However, if your oximeter doesn’t deliver consistent, reliable results, it won’t be of much use to you. Two impressive built-in features– the perfusion index and plethysmograph– set Innovo’s Deluxe Fingertip Pulse Oximeter apart from the rest of the pack when it comes to accuracy.
- Two built-in features check to make sure that you take your readings the right way. The perfusion index will show you if your finger is too cold for a reading and the plethysmograph indicates if the sensor is not making proper skin contact.
- Highly accurate readings. SpO2 readings are accurate to ±2%, while pulse rate readings are accurate to ±2 beats per minute.
- Customizable display. You can rotate the display readout in six different directions.
- Alerts sound in the event of an emergency. Configurable alerts will sound if the pulse or SpO2 reading drops below a certain threshold.
- Comes with a lanyard. The fact that you can wear this oximeter around your neck adds convenience.
- One-year warranty. You can return this oximeter for a full refund anytime within the warranty’s 12-month window if you happen to buy one that has a manufacturing defect.
- Too large for small-sized fingers. Children younger than 12 years of age and adults with small fingers probably won’t be able to use this device.
- The small, deep-set display can be hard to read outside. The display is easy enough to read indoors, but difficult to see in the glare of the sun.
In a nutshell
If accuracy is your priority, Innovo’s Deluxe Fingertip Pulse Oximeter may be your best bet. Its display won’t knock your socks off, but it is one of the most precise consumer oximeters you can buy.
The best pocket-sized pulse oximeter for athletes
Zacurate 500BL Fingertip Pulse Oximeter
Some extreme sports– like mountain climbing, for example– will take you to extreme heights, where the air is thin. Keeping track of your SpO2 level is crucial in these types of demanding environments. That’s where Zacurate’s 500BL Fingertip Pulse Oximeter comes in. It’s slightly smaller and a bit tougher than the competition.
- Small enough to fit in a pocket. Measuring just 1.2 inches tall, 1.15 inches wide and 2.2 inches long, it’s compact enough to slide into most pockets and purses.
- Comes with a convenient lanyard. Another way to carry this oximeter is to wear it around your neck.
- Quick readings. You’ll never have to wait more than 10 seconds to get the results.
- Sturdy construction. Since its shell is made from durable ABS plastic, it won’t break easily if you happen to drop it.
- Good battery life. Fresh batteries deliver 30 hours of continuous use.
- One-year warranty. If notice a manufacturing defect up to 12 months after your purchase, Zacurate will repair your device or send you a new one for free.
- Not quite as accurate as other pulse oximeters. The SpO2 reader has a 0% to 99% display range. In other words, you won’t be able to know if your blood is more than 99% percent saturated with oxygen.
- Dim, plain-looking LED display. The fact that the display isn’t very bright could be a potential issue.
In a nutshell
This quick, rugged oximeter was clearly designed to cater to athletes. However, its above-average energy efficiency comes at a small cost: a somewhat dim display. If that minor drawback doesn’t bother you, this device might be worth a closer look.
The pulse oximeter with the best display
Santamedical Generation 2 Fingertip Pulse Oximeter
If you often find yourself squinting at electronic devices when you use them, you’ll probably appreciate Santamedical’s Generation 2 Fingertip Pulse Oximeter. Its best feature is its brilliant display. Even though this oximeter isn’t very big, its oversized fonts and extra bright illuminated screen makes it much easier to read.
- Vivid display. Because the display is bright and clear, results are easy to read.
- Built-in plethysmograph. The plethysmograph checks for blood flow irregularities and lets you make sure that your finger is positioned appropriately.
- One-button operation. There’s only one button on the device, which you press when you want to obtain a reading. After a few seconds, it shuts off on its own to conserve battery power.
- You can rotate the screen. This convenient feature lets you comfortably obtain readings in a variety of different positions.
- You can wear it around your neck. The box contains a lanyard, which you can use to carry this oximeter with you wherever you go.
- One-year warranty. The 12-month warranty meets the industry standard.
- The bright display will drain your batteries if you leave it on. If you carry this oximeter, there’s a risk that you’ll accidentally turn it on throughout the day.
- No alarms or alerts. If you want an oximeter because you have a medical condition, you may want to go with an oximeter that has some type of alarm feature.
In a nutshell
If you have any type of vision issue, this pulse oximeter makes a lot of sense. However, you might want to use the included lanyard if you intend to carry it around with you. If you put it in your pocket, you might turn it on by mistake and drain its batteries.
The pulse oximeter with the longest battery life
Zacurate Pro Series 500DL Fingertip Pulse Oximeter
Nobody likes getting stuck in a situation where you need to use an electronic device, yet it refuses to turn on because its batteries are dead. That’s where Zacurate Pro’s 500DL Oximeter comes in. Because its designers made energy efficiency a priority, you’ll get a full 40 hours out continuous out of each pair of AAA batteries that you buy for it.
- Batteries last for a long time. A new set of batteries will power this device for up to 40 hours.
- Full SpO2 range. Some oximeters aren’t able to detect oxidation beyond 99%, but this one’s range goes up to 100%.
- Convenient battery indicator. When it’s time to switch out the batteries, you’ll know because the display indicates how much charge is remaining.
- Easy operation. You can take a reading with the press of a button and it automatically turns off after 15 seconds.
- Multiple color options. Available colors include black, purple and pink.
- Can be worn around the neck. The included lanyard makes this oximeter more portable than most.
- Removable silicon cover. The cover helps protect the device against dings, scratches and drops.
- The finger receptacle is somewhat large. Children may have trouble using this device, as will adults with very large or very small fingers.
- Dim display. One reason why this oximeter has excellent power efficiency could be that its LED display is somewhat dim.
In a nutshell
It may not look fancy, but Zacurate’s Pro Series 500DL Fingertip Pulse Oximeter is a very capable– and surprisingly accurate– oximeter. If you plan on taking the majority of your SpO2 readings indoors, its somewhat dim display won’t be that much of a downside.
The best pulse oximeter that comes with a case
AccuMed CMS-50D Fingertip Pulse Oximeter
If you’re really serious about monitoring your SpO2, you’re probably not going to want to stop taking measurements just because you have to catch a long flight. Even though consumer-grade pulse oximeters aren’t meant to be used as medical devices, they can provide useful data about the state of your health. AccuMed’s CMS-50D Fingertip Pulse Oximeter is precise enough to provide actionable information, plus it comes with a handy travel bag and a lanyard.
- Easy to store, wear and transport. Most pulse oximeters feature a neck lanyard, but this one also comes with a carrying case.
- Removable silicon cover. The cover makes the edges of the device less sharp and act as a shield against damage caused by scratches and drops.
- Accurate readings. SpO2 and pulse readings both come within ±2% of accuracy.
- Quick response. Some oximeters take 30 seconds to deliver results, but this one responds in 8 to 10 seconds every time.
- Customizable color options. Available colors you can choose from when you buy this oximeter include pink, blue and black.
- Comes with batteries. The box contains two AAA batteries, which you can pop in right away if you want to get started immediately.
- Pulse rate graph. The plethysmograph lets you know that the device is positioned properly before you take a reading and may also help detect circulatory irregularities.
- Batteries only last for 20 hours. Other pulse oximeters are twice as energy efficient.
In a nutshell
AccuMed’s CMS-50D Fingertip Pulse Oximeter comes with not only a travel bag, but also a silicon cover. These handy features make it ideal for traveling. Just make sure you pack some extra batteries if you intend to be gone for an extended period of time.
Buying guide for pulse oximeters
Accuracy will be one of the first things you’ll need to consider before you buy a pulse oximeter. Most are capable of delivering results within ±2% of your actual blood oxygen saturation level. That level of precision is enough to help you analyze for trends and check to see if your SpO2 levels are within a normal range.
Just a few years ago, most pulse oximeters took around 30 seconds to calculate a reading. Newer devices only require around 10 seconds of wait time.
Alarms and alerts
If you intend to use your pulse oximeter during exercise sessions, you probably won’t need this feature. However, if you intend to monitor yourself while at home, alerts could come in handy. Some pulse oximeters play an audible beep that lets you keep track of your pulse with your ears.
Most pulse oximeters are small enough to fit inside a pocket. However, you may accidentally turn your device on if you carry it this way. If you intend to take your pulse oximeter with you when you’re out and about, look for one that comes with a lanyard. Some pulse oximeters also come with a carrying case.
Finger receptacle size
If you have small fingers or intend to use your pulse oximeter on a child, make sure that the finger receptacle will fit before you buy.
Display brightness vs. battery life
Pulse oximeters with LED displays can be hard to read in some conditions, but are also more energy efficient.
Some pulse oximeters come with removable silicon covers. These covers guard against scratches and prevent damage caused by drops and dings. Devices that have shells that are made from ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene) plastic tend to be more durable compared to ones that have polypropylene plastic shells.
Manufacturers have finally begun to realize that health monitoring devices don’t have to look boring. Many pulse oximeter makers provide the option of choosing from several different colors and styles.
Most pulse oximeters are about two inches long and an inch or so wide. However, some are smaller and slimmer than others. Check the measurements before you make your purchase if size is a concern.
Warranty and return policy
Even though today’s consumer-grade pulse oximeters are very inexpensive, it still makes sense to prioritize manufacturers offer generous return policies and long warranties. If a manufacturer is willing to support and stand by their product, this is a sign that it will probably do what it’s supposed to do and last a long time.
Sports-oriented pulse oximeters with LED displays tend to be very inexpensive. Since they are meant to be used to check for low SpO2 levels, they don’t need to be able to go all the way up to 100%. You can buy a high quality one for around $15.
If you’re willing to spend around $20, you can get a slightly more accurate pulse oximeter that can detect 100% blood oxygen saturation.
Pulse oximeters that cost $30 or more typically come with brighter displays and built-in speakers. Audible pulse sounds are useful for extended at-home monitoring, as are configurable alerts.
Frequently asked questions
Q: How do I know if my blood oxygen is low?
A: For most people, SpO2 can fall as low as 95% and still be within a healthy range. Readings of 90% or less are usually considered to be low. If you have a lung condition, your doctor may tell you that a lower SpO2 range is acceptable.
Q: What are some common use cases for consumer-grade pulse oximeters?
A: Consumer pulse oximeters are not meant to be used as medical devices. However, if you just started an intense exercise routine, you can use an oximeter to check to see if it’s putting too much stress on your body. Pulse oximeters can provide a clue to how effectively lung medication is working, as well.
Q: What’s the difference between hypoxia and hypoxemia?
A: Sometimes these terms are used interchangeably, but they actually have different meanings. Hypoxia means SpO2 has fallen so low that death is a possibility. Hypoxemia, on the other hand, means that SpO2 has dipped below the healthy range.
- Remain still while your pulse oximeter does its job. Too much movement can skew your results.
- Fingernail polish can cause inaccurate readings, as well. As a workaround, you can tilt your finger to the side before you insert it into your device.
- If you’re outside in the sun and you want to measure your blood oxygen saturation, look for shade first. Bright light can also interfere with a pulse oximeter’s ability to function properly.
- The sensitive electronic components inside of pulse oximeters break when exposed to water. To clean your pulse oximeter, use a damp cloth or an alcohol swab.