How to monitor oxygen levels while awake or sleeping

If you’ve had an exam, a doctor may have clipped a device to your finger to measure your oxygen saturation (SpO2) and heart rate. Up until last year, that was my only experience with such devices, but during the pandemic, I and many others have purchased our own pulse oximeters to check at home for possible signs of COVID 19 or otherwise

Larry Magid (Gary Reyes / Mercury News)

breathing problems. They’re available online for just $15, but, as the FDA warns, “Although pulse oximetry is useful for estimating blood oxygen levels, pulse oximeters have limitations and, in certain circumstances, a risk of inaccuracy that should be considered.” The agency cautions pointed out several factors that can affect the accuracy of a pulse oximeter reading, “such as poor circulation, skin pigmentation, skin thickness, skin temperature, recent tobacco use, and use of nail polish.” A study of six inexpensive pulse oximeters, as reported in the journal Anesthesia & Analgesia, found that “many inexpensive pulse oximeters sold to consumers have grossly inaccurate readings.”


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