Last updated: 03/16/2020

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Surely, if you hear the word pulse oximeter, it sounds rather mysterious and scientific, you have probably seen one of these and had your pulse taken on one at a routine exam in recent years, so you may find it more familiar than the name of the instrument. It is a device for hospital use that, in its most popular version, is placed on the finger and measures the percentage of correct oxygen levels in the blood.

On this occasion, we are here to tell you that the pulse oximeter has also become a very useful tool for athletes, as it can help them improve their performance. In fact, it is advisable to use it in training that tests lung capacity. Want to know more? Read on.

Key Facts

  • The pulse oximeter is a device that measures the saturation of oxygen in the blood. There are those for hospital use, but also for home use.
  • They are very popular among athletes and climbers, as they can help identify an emergency in case of oxygen levels fall below those recommended.
  • The accuracy and use of batteries of these devices are critical factors in your purchase. The after-sales service by the manufacturer is also an important feature that should be taken into account in the buying process.

Our Selection: The Best Pulse Oximeters on the U.S. Market

Whether you engage in energetic workouts or if you are fond of heights, you should know that a pulse oximeter is vital during the development of your activity. Therefore, we offer you the most outstanding articles. For domestic use, the finger pulse oximeter is the most recommended, although there are several different types.

Best Overall Pulse Oximeter

This is an Amazon’s Choice pulse oximeter with over 6000 reviews for a 4.5 out of 5 rating by verified buyers. Includes 2 AAA batteries for instant use, and a lanyard for convenience, and the LED display faces toward the user for readability. This pulse oximeter has a surprisingly affordable price of one $18.99.

Best Cuff-Style Pulse Oximeter

This easy to read cuff-style pulse oximeter, large display with an LED back-light makes it easy to read even in the dark.  The strap fits wrists from 5.5″ – 8.5″ and this pulse oximeter includes batteries, so you can use it right out of the box.

Best Wearable Pulse Oximeter

This wearable pulse oximeter works with an app on your iOS or Android phone and is much easier to use than the conventional fingertip oxygen monitor when exercising. All you have to do is stop for about 10 seconds and you’ll have your reading. You can monitor your pulse continuously for up to 16 hours, to analyze and improve your health over time.

Shopping Guide: Everything You Should Know About Pulse Oximeters

If you have come here it is because you wish to monitor your oxygen for health reasons or you want to watch the recovery of your training that allows you to improve your physical condition. Or perhaps you often climb mountains and you need to be aware of your state of health when at such altitudes. In any case, you are looking for a pulse oximeter. Here, we will answer your most frequent questions.

A pulse oximeter is a small device that measures the saturation of oxygen in the blood. It has a clamp shape and can be placed on any finger.
(Source: Belchonock: 107794599/ 123rf.com)

What is a pulse oximeter exactly?

A pulse oximeter is a small device that measures the saturation of oxygen in the blood. It has a clamp shape and can be placed on any finger. It is formed by a light, which detects the color of the blood, and a sensor, which sends the information. When oxygen is released, the blood turns bluish in color. The more blue, the greater the presence of oxygen in the blood.

Oximeters or pulse oximeters for athletes also include other benefits, such as heart rate control, breathing rate measurement, perfusion index (arterial pulse signal) or even the hydration level. These are benefits that can make them an almost indispensable element for athletes and lovers of heights.

What is the oxygen saturation measured by a pulse oximeter?

Oxygen saturation (SpO2) corresponds to the amount of oxygen measured in blood. To give you an idea of how this works, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), these levels should be between 95% and 100% in a healthy person. However, you should know that during demanding sports the levels fall on a recurring basis.

Oximeters or pulse oximeters for athletes also include other features, such as heart rate control.
(Source: Photoba: 98906977/ 123rf.com)

What types of pulse oximeters are available?

The most recommended oximeters for athletes are finger or portable oximeters. However, there are some specific (desktop or pediatric) pulse oximeters designed for medical staff. Wrist oximeters, similar to a wristwatch and with the sensor on the finger, are used in patients with sleep apnea.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of a finger pulse oximeter?

Finger pulse oximeters are mainly used by people with respiratory problems. In recent times, they have become fashionable among athletes, since they allow you to evaluate the recovery in each of your workouts. A correct recovery would show levels between 94% and 100%. Otherwise, the oximeter would show 93% or less.

You should keep in mind that these oximeters are the most suitable for domestic use. In addition to being portable, they are simple to use and interpret. They are recommended for patients or athletes who need to monitor oxygen saturation without having to go to an appointment. In addition, they work with batteries, so they are fully portable.

How do I interpret the results of a pulse oximeter?

First of all, you should look at the numbers that appear on the screen (depending on the brand and model they take between 5 and 10 seconds). The acronym SpO2 (pulse oximetry oxygen saturation) will give you a value that, we recommend, write down on a paper that allows you to properly track. Do not forget to also write the date, so that you can track your progress.

Wrist oximeters, similar to a wristwatch and with the sensor on the finger, are used in patients with sleep apnea.
(Source: Clickandphoto: 53130919/ 123rf.com)

Should I use a pulse oximeter after exercising?

The use of the oximeter is highly recommended in athletes who routinely perform vigorous exercises or at high altitudes since they need an adequate oxygen level at all times. You should know that if your oxygen level during exercise is reduced to less than 4% of the levels at rest it may be a wrong reading. You should check with your doctor.

When should I worry about the reading of my pulse oximeter?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), optimal blood oxygen levels should be 95% or higher. 92% or less is considered hypoxemia (not enough oxygen level) that could lead to respiratory distress, headache, confusion or agitation. It could therefore be an emergency.

Hypoxia is the trigger of acute mountain sickness (MAM), which can trigger: dizziness, headache, nausea and vomiting, lack of appetite, physical exhaustion, sleep disorders, and cerebral and pulmonary edema. These symptoms may manifest mildly, moderately or acutely. The oximeter will help you identify it correctly.

How does an oximeter assist in resistance training?

The pulse oximeter is a tool that you must take into account when evolving in your workouts. Recovery, just as important as the effort made during the session, is measured through the oximeter. A correct recovery will allow us to improve our physical capacity.

In addition, the pulse oximeter is essential for athletes who train at high altitudes. It is in this type of training that we must be careful since the decrease in atmospheric pressure lowers our oxygen levels to the point of posing a threat to our health.

 

How is a pulse oximeter used correctly?

This non-invasive method to measure blood oxygen saturation (SpO2) is carried out very simply. However, you must take into account a series of guidelines for the measurement to be carried out correctly, since detecting levels below those indicated by medical equipment can become vital.

  • First, you must clean the sensor with a cotton or similar fabric.
  • Before placing the oximeter, remember that your nails must be clean without enamel remains so that the measurement does not lead to ambiguity. You must not move.
  • Do not expose the oximeter to light, natural or artificial, just before reading the result.
  • Check that your hands are not too cold. If so, rub them to a more adequate body temperature.
  • Place the device on the finger to be measured at the height of the nail.
  • Wait a few seconds until you get the oxygen saturation reading.

How much does a pulse oximeter cost?

In the market there is a wide variety of finger pulse oximeters. You can find them from approximately 20 dollars onward. However, you should keep in mind that this type of low-cost device can lose the calibration faster. Those that incorporate more benefits, have a longer useful life and are of better quality can be purchased for approximately $25-$30.

Buyer’s Guide

Before buying a finger pulse oximeter you should take into account a series of parameters that will make your decision easier. It is likely that you do not know anything about this device, so before buying one, we advise you to study a series of features that will guarantee you the right decision.

Size

Most oximeters have a standard size of about 1.5 x 2.5 inches. However, we advise you to measure your finger from the tip of the nail to the bottom of the knuckle. With this measure, you will be able to get the oximeter measurements right and avoid any surprises after your purchase.

Finger pulse oximeters are mainly used by people with respiratory problems.
(Source: Belchonock: 128232016/ 123rf.com)

Precision

It is true that, today, all oximeters are up to date as far as technology is concerned. However, you can assess those that offer you additional features, such as signals that tell you if the test cannot be carried out correctly. In this way, you will be completely sure that the accuracy in reading the data.

Battery

You should take into account the use of the device since it is not the same to measure saturation after physical tests than after an expedition to the mountain. In this regard, you should assess whether you prefer the use of batteries. You should think about how long the oximeter will be outside its charging base and decide which of the two options fits you the most.

Display and Data Readout

We recommend that you look for an oximeter with a large, easy-to-read screen. There are some oximeters that offer records of previous tests, comparatives, and follow-ups. Do not buy a highly sophisticated one if you think that reading an instrument like this can complicate your life. You can always resort to writing down the paper and compare the data yourself.

The oximeter is a great tool for athletes who play sports at high altitudes.
(Source: Ramon Velasco Perez: 67173679/ 123rf.com)

Summary

The pulse oximeter is a device that allows the level of blood saturation (SpO2) to be measured in a non-invasive and painless manner. For hospital use, the devices have gained much popularity among patients with respiratory diseases, athletes and lovers of heights. The finger pulse oximeter is the most recommended for domestic use.

In addition, the pulse oximeter allows the athlete to carry out a proper recovery of their training. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the optimal levels of a healthy body are between 95% and 100%. When buying an oximeter, you should take into account its intended use since you can choose between battery operation or rechargeable oximeters, and while rechargeable types are lighter, batteries can last longer.

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(Source of featured image: Clickandphoto: 53130486/ 123rf.com)

Why you can trust me?

Avery Hilland Fitness & Nutrition Expert
Avery studied fitness and nutrition at college and currently works as a PE teacher at his local high school. Not only does he love to help out his students increase their fitness performance, but he also writes blogs about sports and fitness in his spare time.