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How a Pulse Oximeter Saves Lives

A pulse oximeter is a small electronic device that attaches to the ear or finger with a plastic clip. This piece if equipment is important because it helps doctors save lives. The pulse oximeter allows healthcare professionals to monitor the amount of oxygen in a person's blood.


Why Would a Doctor Use a Pulse Oximeter?

A pulse oximeter can help prevent heart attacks. The device measures the amount of oxygen in the blood. Blood carries oxygen to the heart, and if the heart doesn’t get enough oxygen, it will cease to operate correctly. So you can probably imagine why a pulse oximeter is a useful piece of medical equipment to have around.


A pulse oximeter is easy to use and convenient. It's a light, small piece of equipment that’s easy for nurses and doctors to attach to the patient. A fingertip pulse oximeter is usually pocket sized, and can easily fit within a doctor's bag or pocket. The hand held pulse oximeter is slightly larger, but just as easy to use. We actually sell both types on our website so you can see exactly what they look like.


How Does a Pulse Oximeter Work?

A pulse oximeter works similar to an electronic blood pressure monitor. Only instead of measuring blood pressure, it measures the amount of oxygen in the blood. The equipment works by measuring the levels of red pigment hemoglobin, which is what carries the oxygen to your heart. Hemoglobin that contains oxygen and hemoglobin that doesn't contain oxygen are different colors. The pulse oximeter measures the amount of oxygenated hemoglobin against the amount of non-oxygenated hemoglobin.


If a person doesn't have enough oxygenated hemoglobin, the healthcare provider can correct the situation. This is usually done by providing the patient with more oxygen.


The pulse oximeter uses light emitting diodes to actually read what's going on in your body. The part that attaches to the body sends out two types of light: invisible infrared light and red light. The two types of hemoglobin (oxygenated and non-oxygenated) absorb light differently. So the monitor compares the amount of each type of light that gets through your finger. That's how a pulse oximeter can tell what’s in the blood without the use of a needle.


Healthcare professionals use the pulse oximeter information to check the heart, lungs, and blood. When all three organs are working correctly, oxygen is delivered to the body as it should be. However, pulse oximeter readings aren't always accurate. A person may have poor blood flow but still have the oxygen they need.


Anything that changes the blood color can also cause the pulse oximeter to get a false reading. Carbon monoxide can cause a change in blood color. However, advanced models of pulse oximeters can tell the difference between carbon monoxide and oxygen. If you're curious about the difference features available for this piece of equipment, feel free to visit the pulse oximeter section of our website.